Biological Flora of the British Isles: Ambrosia artemisiifolia

08 September 2015

1. This account presents information on all aspects of the biology of Ambrosia artemisiifolia L. (Common ragweed) that are relevant to understanding its ecology. The main topics are presented within the standard framework of the Biological Flora of the British Isles: distribution, habitat, communities, responses to biotic factors, responses to environment, structure and physiology, phenology, floral and seed characters, herbivores and disease, and history, conservation, impacts and management. 2. Ambrosia artemisiifolia is a monoecious, wind-pollinated, annual herb native to North America whose height varies from 10 cm to 2.5 m, according to environmental conditions. It has erect, branched stems and pinnately lobed leaves. Spike-like racemes of male capitula composed of staminate (male) florets terminate the stems, while cyme-like clusters of pistillate (female) florets are arranged in groups in the axils of main and lateral stem leaves. 3. Seeds require prolonged chilling to break dormancy. Following seedling emergence in spring, the rate of vegetative growth depends on temperature, but development occurs over a wide thermal range. In temperate European climates, male and female flowers are produced from summer to early autumn (July to October). 4. Ambrosia artemisiifolia is sensitive to freezing. Late spring frosts kill seedlings and the first autumn frosts terminate the growing season. It has a preference for dry soils of intermediate to rich nutrient level. 5. Ambrosia artemisiifolia was introduced into Europe with seed imports from North America in the 19th century. Since World War II, it has become widespread in temperate regions of Europe and is now abundant in open, disturbed habitats as a ruderal and agricultural weed. 6. Recently, the North American ragweed leaf beetle (Ophraella communa) has been detected in southern Switzerland and northern Italy. This species appears to have the capacity to substantially reduce growth and seed production of A. artemisiifolia. 7. In heavily infested regions of Europe, A. artemisiifolia causes substantial crop-yield losses and its copious, highly allergenic pollen creates considerable public health problems. There is a consensus among models that climate change will allow its northward and uphill spread in Europe.