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It's a nuisance, but pollen is important

Posted: May 4, 2013 - 11:12pm

It is hard to imagine a better place to enjoy blossoming azaleas and dogwoods than the Augusta area, but it comes with abundant amounts of pollen.

Many people like to catch the “pollen-count” portion of the morning news. Pollen counts are measured by special diagnostic rods coated with silicone grease. The rods are placed in the environment and monitored on a 24-hour cycle. The pollen grains collected are then counted under a microscope. The grain count is then converted into a concentration, usually given in grains per cubic meter of air. As pollen counts rise, many people wonder about the sources and usefulness of the pollen.

All flowering plants produce tiny, dust-like grains called pollen. These grains are produced by anthers, the male reproductive structure of the plant. There are two classes of pollen – “sticky” and “wind-blown.” Sticky pollen is produced by plants that have showy flowers, such as azaleas and dogwoods. These plant species are insect-pollinated. Therefore, they don’t need to produce large amounts of pollen because of the efficiency of insects in distributing pollen as they move among flowers.

Wind-blown pollen, such as that of pine and oak trees, is released in large masses in the spring and randomly pollinates trees of the same species. These plant species depend on wind for pollen dispersal, and must produce massive amounts of pollen since only a very small amount will actually reach female flowers in that species. These plants are the major culprit of the yellow dusting seen in early spring.

Most of the pollen seen now comes from trees. Pine pollen is usually the messiest and most prolific, but it’s not the cause of most allergies. Pine pollen is heavy and wet, and most of it falls quickly to the ground. Most allergies are caused by light, dry pollen from oak, elm, hickory, boxelder and sumac.

Tree pollen season usually decreases by mid-May. Unfortunately for allergy sufferers, grass pollen takes its toll, usually during the month of May. The summer weed pollen season begins in July or August and continues until November. This is the time when the dreaded ragweed pollen wreaks havoc on our respiratory systems.

In spite of all the allergies, let’s remember that all of this is for a good cause. Trees are vitally important to humans. In Georgia alone, the forestry industry contributes more than $27 billion to the economy. We all rely on trees for paper and building materials. And let’s not forget the best part – oxygen. Trees are essential for supporting life on planet Earth.

Tripp Williams, Columbia County’s agriculture and natural resource extension agent, can be reached at (706) 541-4011, or trippj@uga.edu.

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