When is the best time to emerge: reproductive phenology and success of natural common waterhemp (Amaranthus rudis) cohorts in the midwest United States?
Although the prolonged emergence pattern of common waterhemp is well known, its effect on flowering phenology and success is less well understood. The ecological significance of later common waterhemp cohorts could have been underestimated. Ecological knowledge of common waterhemp, such as reproductive phenology and success, would help us better understand the invasiveness of this weed and thus facilitate the development of more targeted control methods. Field studies were conducted at Ames, IA, to evaluate temporal variation in flowering phenology (e.g., date of flower initiation, number of flowering plants per day) and reproductive success (e.g., seed production) of natural common waterhemp cohorts. Later-emerging common waterhemp cohorts flowered quicker and had a relatively shorter flowering period than early cohorts. Common waterhemp cohorts showed very large variations for the duration of their vegetative phases, indicating different photoperiod sensitivity among cohorts. Furthermore, common waterhemp cohorts exhibited a pulsed flowering pattern, which was probably influenced by temporal distribution of rain events; up to seven distinct flowering pulses within 40 d were observed in 2009, and about eight flowering pulses scattered over a 60 d period were observed in 2010. Common waterhemp maintained high seed production throughout the growing season. Seed production for the entire cohort was influenced more by emergence timing, whereas individual plant fecundity was more affected by plant population densities. Common waterhemp demonstrates strong phenological plasticity by evolving a pulsed flowering pattern, which rendered it plastic enough to tailor flowering to variable environmental conditions thus facilitating effective pollination. Common waterhemp later cohorts have a strong seed production potential, which may be ecologically significant with regard to herbicide resistance evolution.