Itchy eyes? Sneezing and coughing all day? Maybe a sore throat too?
If you’re feeling these symptoms you probably dread the sight of that yellow pollen on your car or your porch. Maybe even just looking at it triggers a sneeze.
Or you could be one of the lucky ones who are just happy Spring is in bloom!
Either way, we’re here to tell you that the pollen you see on surfaces is most likely NOT the culprit of any allergy symptoms you may have.
That waxy yellow coating of pollen is from pine trees, which fall in the category of Gymnosperms. It also literally falls, meaning it does not circulate through the air and into your sinuses like many other types of pollen. The particles of pine pollen are heavy and large enough to descend through the air and stick to a surface where they typically don’t give people symptoms. Nevertheless, pine pollen and other visible pollen are good indicators that the not-so-visible pollen is on its way to your sinuses.
Gymnosperms include pine trees and other non-flowering plants that can be broken down into three categories: conifers, cycads, and gnetophytes. These are your common shrubs and evergreen trees like pine, cedar, redwood and spruce trees (photographed above). Each produces seeds that are not protected by a fruit and depend on wind as an agent of pollination. Non-flowering plants such as juniper, cypress, cedar and sequoia do cause allergies for a number of people. However, in general, flowering plants (angiosperms) consist of more common threats in terms of allergies.
One of the biggest non-tree pollen concerns is Ragweed. Ragweed's pollinating season is mainly Fall, but it can wreak havoc for certain people year-round. Ryegrass also causes allergy symptoms for many in the Baltimore area. Although pollen cannot be stopped, it can help to tune into which and when flowering plants might come for you!
Tree pollen season: early March - April
Grass pollen season: May - up to October
Weed pollen season: September - November
Angiosperms which consist of 300,000 species (around 80 percent of known green plants) include several that also depend on wind pollination. Unlike with gymnosperms, these wind pollinators spread in greater numbers and as smaller, less visible pollen grains. These include birch, elm, alder, ash, oak, maple and hickory and several more.
But if it offers any peace of mind, only about 100 of the 60,000 tree species out there cause allergies! Most times, whichever one of those 100 trees are causing you seasonal allergies / hay fever will be angiosperm. Of course, there are also flowering weeds and grasses whose pollen pose issues too.
Photographed above are ash trees and below are the leaves of a maple tree. Both species are flowering trees that cause minor to severe allergies for many.
Hopefully, the differentiation between non-flowering and flowering pollinators is helpful information. But the question still stands: Which flowering species exactly are the biggest allergy villains? Of course this all depends on the individual and where he or she lives. Although it’s tough to specify, there are certain ways to narrow down which type of pollen could be waging a war against your sinus health.
Photographed above is a White Oak. Generally, oak are the most common trees in our area, followed by maple. Others include willow, walnut and maple trees. Each is anemophilous and either monoecious or dioecious.
A few takeaways:
- Plants that pollinate by wind are a much bigger allergy threat than insect or animal pollinated plants. Wind pollinated plants may be referred to as “anemophilous.”
- Dioecious and monecious plants are likely to produce more pollen than plants with perfect flowers. In other words, since the males are the pollinators, plants with males that function independently will end up spreading more pollen.
- Monoecious - male and female flowers are separate but on same plant
- Dioecious - plants are either male or female regarding the flowers they produce
- Perfect flowers - male and female structures in the same flower
- For example: A willow tree can either be monoecious and dioecious, while a magnolia tree has perfect flowers. You are much more likely to get allergies from a willow than a magnolia.
- And, of course, the bigger the population of the pollinator, the more likely the pollen will get to you. Check the populations of flowering trees in your area to find out which pollen is most likely getting to you! In the greater DC and Baltimore area the most common flowering tree is oak, followed by maple.