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A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Sunday - September 21, 2014

From: Pahrump, NV
Region: Rocky Mountain
Topic: Plant Identification, Problem Plants
Title: What is the plant called wingspan?
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

I have a lot of environmental allergies and saw a positive result for "wingspan" yet I cannot find ANY information online about that particular plant. I was told it's "tumbleweed" by the medical assistant but even then there are many varieties of "tumbleweed." Please reply if you can with the species/varieties of plants that make up the term "wingspan." Thank you, very much for your time.

ANSWER:

I believe you mean Atriplex canescens (Chamiso or Wingscale).  It is known to be a severe allergen.  You can see in the USDA Plants Database Distribution Map that it occurs in all the western half of the US and into Alberta, Canada.  Here is a description from Southeastern Arizona Wildflowers.

Here is information from a couple of allergy websites naming it: 

And here is an article about it from a blogger in Cochise County, Arizona—Ghost32Writer—with a description of his wife's severe allergic reaction to wingscale.

Wingscale isn't a tumbleweed, but the pollen from tumbleweed flowers are also an allergen. The tumbleweed seen in the movies typifying the West is really an invasive plant from Eurasia, Salsola spp. (Russian thistle or wind witch).  Here is another discussion of tumbleweeds from Utah State University's The Great Basin and Invasive Weeds.  According to PubMed and Pollen Library, the pollen of various species of Salsola are allergens.

 

From the Image Gallery


Chamiso
Atriplex canescens

Chamiso
Atriplex canescens

Chamiso
Atriplex canescens

Chamiso
Atriplex canescens

Chamiso
Atriplex canescens

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