Pollen is in the air

Wayne Hobbs UF/IFAS Environmental Horticulture Agent
Posted 2/15/17

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – With yellow dustings on cars and a lot of extra congestion and sniffling, it is a sign that pollen is being released in our area. With a normal season of pollen release from …

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Pollen is in the air

Posted

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – With yellow dustings on cars and a lot of extra congestion and sniffling, it is a sign that pollen is being released in our area. With a normal season of pollen release from January to June, this time of year may not be the favorite of those who suffer from allergies but there are some things you can do within your landscape to hopefully lessen the effects.

The Science of Pollen

Simply put, pollen is the male reproductive material of plants. Whether it comes from flowers or cones, it is often carried by the wind or by insects from one plant to another or at least from one reproductive structure to another. Once it reaches another female portion of a flower, it can merge with an ovule and develop into a seed, bringing forth another generation of plants.

With it being so light and needing to be carried long distances, plants that have wind dispersed pollen produce high amounts which can cause reactions in those who are sensitive to it. Pollen that is distributed by insects, known as pollinators, do not usually cause as many issues with allergy sufferers.

Weather can also have a great effect on the movement of pollen as rain can heavily dampen its movement along with cold temperatures and frost slowing tree productions. However, warm windy weather can increase its production and travel.

Pollen Allergies

Overall, allergies are a natural reaction of your body in response to contacting a foreign substance, known as an allergen. For many, pollen can be their allergen but you can also have reactions to mold spores, dust, plant saps and material, and many others. Overall, tens of millions of people suffer from allergies from pollen every year and, as a whole, people spend billions of dollars a year for doctor visits and medications to control their allergies.

Limiting the Issue

However, even with pollen being present, there a few things you can do to limit the issue. First of all, when planning a landscape, you can try to make smart plant choices with allergens in mind. For example, there actually is a scale to measure the pollen production of trees known as the Ogren Plant-Allergy Scale or OPALS. By taking into account the likelihood of a tree to cause symptoms based on exposure to the plant and its pollen, it is rated on a 1-10 scale with 1 being the lowest and 10 being the highest risk of causing a reaction.

Trees such as pines, magnolias and persimmons have relatively low scores (4, 5, and 5 respectively) while Oaks, Winged Elms and Sweet Gums are much more likely to cause issues with scores of 8, 8, and 7 on the OPALS scale. Additionally, some plants are dioecious, meaning they actually have male and female plants, and have varied ratings depending on which you plant with the male plant normally having a much higher rating.

Outside of choosing plants that produce less airborne pollen, there are also some best practices to limit your exposure when gardening. Here a quick list of some tips from the University of Florida:

• Dry clothes inside during pollen season.

• Limit outdoor activities during the pollen season and on days with high wind and low humidity.

• Stay inside from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., which are peak pollen times.

• Shower after spending time outside.

• Use air filters and maintain your air conditioner filter.

• Wear a dust mask while mowing the lawn, gardening, or raking leaves.

With some extra knowledge and practices, you can work to keep yourself feeling better during the spring, and eventually fall, pollen season.

If you have any questions about landscape and garden topics, or need plant or pest materials identified, contact the University of Florida/IFAS Extension Office online at http://www.clay.ifas.ufl.edu, follow us on Facebook, or call by phone at (904) 284-6355.

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