January 15, 2009
Allergy Season Already?!
Is it possible that allergy season has begun here in Spokane, despite freezing temperatures and lingering snow? Unfortunately, coniferous evergreens like juniper, pine, spruce and arborvitae (pictured above) begin releasing pollen in late winter. As a one-woman allergy meter, I have my own way of marking the start of allergy season. Persistant nasal drip, itchy eyes, frequent headaches? Yes, yes and yes. And so it begins.
Coniferous evergreens produce large amounts of dry, lightweight pollen from male cones. Do you see the tiny brown male cones in the picture above? Since these plants don't rely on insects as pollenators, their pollen is designed to fly with the wind over large distances. This type of pollen is especially good at causing allergies because there's so much of it, it stays airborn for a long time, and it sticks easily to moist nasal surfaces.
Not all conifers are equally allergenic. On the OPALS allergy scale (where 10 is the most allergenic), arborvitaes (Thuja) are rated at an 8. But pines (Pinus) and spruces (Picea) are rated at just 4 and 3, respectively. Pine and spruce pollen have a waxy coating that make them less irritating to human noses. So the dwarf Alberta spruces in the above photo probably aren't the ones giving me problems.
Some of the worst coniferous allergy offenders are male juniper and male cypress plants (Juniperus), which are both rated at a misery-causing 10 on the OPALS scale. Chinese junipers were the aesthetic bane of decades past. Thankfully there aren't many of them planted in my newer subdivision. The overgrown junipers below are located several blocks from my home.
If you find your allergies flaring in late winter, you'll find Allergy-Free Gardening, by Thomas Leo Ogren, to be a great help. Professor Ogren has created allergy ratings on numerous plants and gives suggestions on how to find allergy relief. His work is especially important in light of the increasing allergy and asthma problems in the United States.
Someday I'll shell out for a course of allergy-reducing shots. But even after that, I'll stick to plants with low allergy ratings. Best wishes to my fellow - sniff, sniff - allergy sufferers!
You're welcome to use any of the pictures from this post if you'll list vwgarden.blogspot.com as the source.