Pollen Season Is Nothing to Sneeze at
It’s that time of year when clocks jump forward, flowers burst into bloom and all of our vehicles are dyed a dull shade of yellow. Welcome to another North Carolina spring and the arrival of pollen season.
The yellow pollen coating your car – as well as sidewalks, patio furniture, pets and so on – is produced by pine trees. Mostly loblolly pine trees, to be specific, which are the prevalent pine species in the Southeast. Pine pollen grains are large and coat pretty much everything, so they’re easier to see – which also makes pine pollen a prime suspect for seasonal allergies.
Runny nose and itchy eyes aside, pollen plays an important role in our everyday lives – no pollen would mean no food.
As it turns out, pine pollen is not an allergen, according to Bob Bardon, a forestry expert and associate dean for Extension in the College of Natural Resources at NC State University. The real culprits behind your coughing, sneezing and watery eyes this time of year are likely hardwood trees, such as maple and oak, which produce a fine grain pollen that’s also quite rough.
While pollen tends to catch a bad rep, what with allergies and all, our lives would look very different without it. As a society, we rely on plants for food, fiber, medicine, materials and many other everyday applications. Since pollen is how plants reproduce and continue providing year after year, it’s safe to say the benefits outweigh the seasonal inconvenience.
Proper Planning Prevents Pollen Problems
While you can’t evade pine pollen entirely, predicting when the season begins, and when production is at its peak, may help you to minimize the impact. Follow this simple formula to pinpoint peak pollen season each year.
Knowing may be half the battle, but allergy-sufferers can take additional steps and further reduce their exposure to pollen:
- Take a shower and wash your clothes after going outside.
- Keep your grass mowed to decrease pollen production.
- When gardening, choose plants that produce large or sticky pollen grains.
- Allergic Living offers a detailed list of low-allergy plants for the garden.
- Wait to go out until the afternoon or evening, when pollen is less active.
- Reference the pollen index for timely updates on pollen levels (view a pollen production trend chart).
The N.C. Department of Environmental Quality’s Pollen Monitoring Service offers additional resources to help with your pollen preparations.
Did You Know?
Pollen also impacts other plant-based products, including those related to trees, from paper, pencils and the lumber in our homes to toothpaste and a myriad of food products.
In fact, pollen is a critical catalyst to North Carolina’s $96 billion agriculture industry (the state’s top economic sector), roughly $10 billion of which comes from forestry industries.