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An Import From France

An invasive pest could soon be on the loose in Hethersett following its discovery in a village garden.

The weed Ambrosia Artemisiifolia has been discovered by botanist and keen gardener Margaret Ford, who is also a leading light in Hethersett Horticultural Society.

Margaret came across the weed purely by chance: "Being a botonist I have always been interested in flowers and even weeds, so I was trying to work out what it was. Eventually I contacted Deni Bown who has written a book on herbs and she identified it. As it grew I found it to be not very interesting but was not aware at first of how significant it is," Margaret said.

The weed is known by a number of different names including common ragweed, annual ragweed, bitterweed, blackweed, carrot weed, hay fever weed, Roman wormwood, stammerwort, stickweed, tassel weed, wild tansy and American Wormwood and several of those names are very descriptive.

For the weed is known for its profusion in North America as a highly invasive and fast growing problem. It has spread to parts of Europe and in particular has been a nuisance in large areas of France where it was introduced accidentally in the 19th century. Now it looks as if it has made its way across the English Channel. Whilst looking harmless, it attacks crops such as soybeans and is also a major irritant to hayfever sufferers. The weed can also prove difficult to control.

It is estimated that at its summer height up to 12% of the French population can be affected in some way by the plant which can also cause skin irritation, asthma and conjunctiveitis.

Ironically Ragweed belongs to the same botanical family as our old favourite, sunflowers. It propagates through its seeds and is often found, as in Margaret's case, underneath bird feeders amongst sunflower seeds. Seeds can remain viable in the soil for 10 years. It can also be spread by anthropogenic activities which to the layman means through what we humans do and how we behave.

Now that Margaret has identified her unusual weed and assuaged her curiosity she has just two aims. The first is to warn other people to be on the lookout for it and the second is to dig it up and destroy it.