I usually don’t react to pollen, you know in the traditional allergy way.  I guess I was blessed.  But the other day my eyes were so sensitive I didn’t know what to think of it…and in true You Should Grow That confession style the night before I was a bit “overserved” at the local watering hole.  So I said to myself…man, I didn’t think I drank that much(hehehehe).  I hypothesized, well maybe my mascara was not agreeing me….but that wasn’t it…Then I was talking to my Rockin’ Rio travel partner Becky, who is a grad student in DC, who just wrote a paper on the proliferation of pollen and its effects on allergies.  And I came to the not to scientific conclusion it must be the pollen not my hangover.

Yep, Becky’s research shows that we have more pollen than before. She actually based a lot of her work on a garden legend, Thomas Ogren who strives to create a allergy-free garden.  There was actually a NY Times article on the subject recently. I have to say, I don’t remember as a child lakes of pollen this time of year.  I just thought I didn’t notice these kinds of things in my youth.  Nope…we have more pollen than ever before.  Her research (with the aide of Ogren) attributes to the abundance of the yellow yucky stuff due to the fact that municipalities and gardeners like us are planting more male trees than female. less variety, and different variety than historically.

  • Female trees produce more “yard litter”  because of fruits and seeds and that is inconvenient from a maintenance perspective.  More “yard litter” means more clean up and clean up costs time and money.  So to avoid doing that, people planted male trees.  The trade off is pollen.  It’s a male tree’s job do produce pollen and they produce a lot.
  • Less variety of trees means the same pollen is compounded and double the pollen, double the “pleasure” of allergies.
  • Finally, the type of tree matters…like in the article, in the 1950’s the great American Elm tree lined the streets, which produces very little pollen.  But Dutch Elm disease has almost wiped out that history wonder and in its place we have chosen trees for their disease-resistance, size, shape and maintenance, without considering the pollen production–bad news for the allergic.

So now we have solved the mystery of why there is so much pollen.  It is a classic case of cause and effect.

What should we grow instead? Ogren suggests the following to help solve the problem:

“consider planting and encouraging people to plant many more tulip poplar, hawthorn, goldenrain, dawn redwood, mountain ash, apple and serviceberry. And they could make far greater use of female trees of many varieties, including junipers, yews, aspens, cottonwoods, poplars, Chinese pistaches, red maples, silver maples, box elders, tupelos, willows and sassafras.”

Oooh…Sassafrass—rolls off the tongue nicely, huh?

I thought this story makes the best coffee or small talk with people.  Feel free to use it at your next networking event or neighborhood yard party.  Everyone always comments on the pollen this time of year(I actually hear pithy comments on the radio daily)…

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