This week in Sidewalk Botany:

Ragweed and Green Bristle Grass


A common allergen and a ‘noxious weed’ — both native plants that offer food for wildlife!

Allow me to give you a heads up: We are heading into ragweed season. The pollen from ragweed (aka Ambrosia artemisiifolia) is the most common weed allergen in the United States. The light pollen can travel hundreds of miles on a breeze. For allergy sufferers, please don’t hate the messenger here, but ragweed is actually an awesome source of food for many insects and birds. It is a native plant in Michigan that has evolved to succeed quite happily in ecological niches that have been recently disturbed, much to the chagrin of noses, eyes, and throats of those living near those areas.

Green Bristle Grass (aka Setaria viridis) is common in highly disturbed areas that are inhospitable to many other plants. The seeds are a common source of food for small songbirds, many of whom show a preference for it. The seeds can remain viable as they pass through the gullets of birds, making their relationship mutually beneficial. Although considered a noxious weed by some, this pretty grass does seem to provide a food source for urban wildlife — and it doesn’t encroach on stable, less disturbed, or consistently maintained landscapes.

Sidewalk Botany is a weekly series of explorations of our photosynthesising neighbors written by Planet Detroit’s Artist in Residence, Bridget Quinn of the A.W.E. Society. To get started identifying plants around you, join us on the Detroiters Do Science project on iNaturalist.