This May Just Be an Exceptional Year for Falling Pollen

Pollen on walkway by Kevin DwyerPollen – that yellow, brown, greenish sticky powdery stuff – seems to be everywhere this spring. We’ve noticed it on car windshields and hoods, patios, sidewalks, roofs, oil tanks, garbage receptacles, golf bags, parking lots, and just about anything that’s sitting outside and exposed to the air.

Pollen 2 image by Kevin Dwyer“ ’Tis the season,” says a gardening expert at Bay Hay & Feed, who preferred not to be quoted by name. “My instinct is that there are going to be lighter years (for pollen) and heavier years,” and this is a heavier year. The LaNina weather pattern that the Pacific Northwest is now experiencing induces conifer trees, in particular, to produce an abundance of pollen, which is then blown by the wind to pollinate other trees. “They are (mostly) conifer-oriented and wind pollinated,” she adds. “It goes everywhere.”

Red Cedars, Douglas Firs and Big Leaf Maples are the likely pollen culprits this time of the year. These big trees don’t wait for bees to transfer their pollen – like flowers and fruit trees and bushes do later in the spring – but instead rely on a good stiff breeze. “It’s on a lot of things,” added the Bay Hay & Feed expert. “It seems to be a bad year for it.”

Pollen 3 image by Kevin DwyerSimply put, pollen is a powdery substance produced by seed plants. According to Wikipedia and industry experts, it consists of pollen grains, which produce male gametes. Pollen grains have a hard coat made of sporopollenin that protects the gametophytes during the process of their movement from the stamens to the pistil of flowering plants, or from the male cone to the female cone of gymnosperms.

If pollen lands on a compatible pistil or female cone, it germinates, producing a pollen tube that transfers the sperm to the ovule containing the female gametophyte. Just in case you were wondering, the study of pollen is called palynology and is highly useful in paleoecology, paleontology, archaeology, and forensics.

What also happens during this time of the year – due to all the pollen flying around – is the sneezing, wheezing, coughing and other symptoms (perhaps congestion and itchy and watery eyes) associated with allergies. The pollen is spread through the air and those who are allergic, breathe in the pollen particles. The lungs may react to the foreign particles causing an allergic reaction.

“People have pollen allergies all year round (in the Pacific Northwest),” explains Ann Lovejoy, a Bainbridge community gardener and the author of at least three dozen books on gardening and cooking. “Pollen doesn’t go away, it stays with us.” She says Alders and Evergreens continuously release the heavy, sticky stuff almost year round, along with the Hazel Bush. And weather plays a role in the pollen production cycle. Last summer “heat dome” and lower temperatures this past winter caused stress on plants and trees that combined “created a ton of pollen,” Lovejoy says.

So what exactly is an allergy? According to the Asthma and Allergy Association, an allergy involves the immune system and how it reacts to certain substances such as pollen from grasses, trees and weeds in addition to foods, insect bites, animal fur, and dander. The immune system is designed to protect the body from disease, germs and viruses. But it can overreact when faced with substances it tries to fight, such as pollen allergies.

Allergies from trees, grasses and weeds come from the pollen content. As pollen travels through the air, it causes allergic reactions such as hay fever known as rhinitis, asthma and conjunctivitis. The most significant cause of allergy symptoms includes certain types of grass and spring tree varieties, weeds and ragweed in the late summer and fall.

As mentioned, weather and rain can sometimes have an effect on the pollen count, which is more prevalent in early morning hours. Lovejoy recommends keeping your windows closed while you sleep during the night if you have pollen allergies, and if you do get exposed, she suggests washing out your eyes with Baby Shampoo since pollen tends to stick in and around the eyes. Dish soap and a gentle brush will remove pollen from your car and windshield, while old-fashioned adhesive tape will take it off your clothes, she says.

Kentucky blue grass, Johnson grass, Bermuda grass, Timothy grass, redtop grass and perennial rye are thought to be the most prevalent allergen-producing grasses. These particular species tend to produce more pollen granules that are airborne for many miles. Both tree allergies and grass allergies can cause symptoms that are similar to that of the common cold. A person with these allergies may begin sneezing, have itchy eyes, a runny nose, feel fatigued and experience headaches. The symptoms of the common cold can last anywhere from seven to 10 days, while allergy symptoms from grass, weeds or a variety of trees will usually continue to persist as long as there is exposure to the allergen. Usually, the symptoms will not subside until the allergens are totally eliminated from the environment.

While there is no hard and fast rules, our regional “high” pollen season can last up to three or more weeks. If you have pollen allergies, follow Ms. Lovejoy’s advice: carry a tissue and wash out your eyes as much as possible. Interested in knowing the local pollen count, visit:

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