Yay! It's Pollen Season
I know you’ve been holding your breath!
While folks in Minnesota and Maine rejoice over two feet of snow on the ground, Southerners celebrate for a different reason. Fine yellow powder dusts every outside surface, gathers in puddles, and swirls on the surfaces of ponds. Two weeks of very warm weather in February has caused many pollen producing trees and shrubs to come into blooms two to three weeks early.
Does Grumpy care? Nope.
You see, the Grump represents a higher form of human being, one that’s not bothered by allergies to pollen. He can inhale long, deep breathes of cool spring air without the slightest stuffiness, sneezing, itching, or watery eyes. Here, I’ll show you.
Many of you cannot, however, so it behooves you to read the rest of this article. I’m going to list some of the worst pollen producers you can have in your garden, so that if you suffer from allergies you can minimize or eliminate them. Fortunately, many are crummy plants you wouldn’t want anyway. I’ll pause for a second while you reach for a tissue. Ready? Let’s begin.
Arizona cypress (Cupressus arizonica)
Native to the dry Southwest, this pyramidal, needle-leaf evergreen tree is now widely planted in the Southeast, thanks to selections with bluish foliage. Male trees release lots of pernicious pollen in spring. Fortunately, two very popular selections, ‘Blue Ice’ and ‘Carolina Sapphire’ are female.
Ashe juniper (Juniperus ashei)
Also called mountain cedar. This needle-leafed evergreen tree is common in the Texas Hill Country and is also found in parts of Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Missouri. Male tree produces prodigious amounts of pollen in spring that makes people there miserable. Ask them.
Bermuda grass (Cynodon dactylon)
Remember when Southerners with allergies moved to Arizona for the fresh, pure air? Nobody does that now. The culprit is the Bermuda grass they brought with them to make lawns. It blooms just after the trees finish and the pollen is atrocious. Pollen counts are usually highest in the morning, so stay indoors then if you’re allergic. Get someone else to cut the grass, walk the dog, get the mail, and put out the trash. You ladies know who that is.
Birch (Betula sp.)
Birches aren’t a serious problem for us, because borers kill most of the white-barked birches people up north like so much. The one birch that thrives here, river birch (B. nigra), is widely planted, but not wisely. It rapidly outgrows its space, spreading 50 feet or more, and drops lots of litter throughout the growing season. Oh yeah, it’s a pollen source too.
Box elder (Acer negundo)
Nobody with a brain plants a box elder. This weedy, trashy member of the maple family sprouts on its own from seeds that blow everywhere. Unlike most maples, it has leaves divided into 6 to 9 leaflets. Box elder has no redeeming qualities. Male trees release irritating pollen. Female trees attract red-and-black box elder bugs that invade houses to spend the winter. Gag.
Chinese elm (Ulmus parviflora)
I’m conflicted about including this here, because I consider a selection named ‘Allee’ to be an outstanding shade, patio, and street tree. It grows fast with ascending branches, isn’t fussy at all, its leaves turn soft-yellow in fall, and its speckled bark is killer. It does cause allergies for some people, though, so pass it by if you’re one of them.
Oaks (Quercus sp.) and Pines (Pinus sp.)
I grant these two groups of trees special dispensations, even though they supply most of the yellow pollen you see. First, most native species are very fine trees for the South. Second, they’re so widespread, removing those from your property won’t do any good. Finally, their pollen is less allergenic than most other plants on this list.
Pecan (Carya illinoiensis)
Yes, I know. Southerners love pecans. We must love pecans! They’re iconic. They also produce prodigious amounts of pollen headed straight for your nose. What treachery.
Privet (Ligustrum sp.)
By now, all of you should know how much I loathe privet in all its forms. It’s incredibly weedy and invasive. The worst, Chinese privet (Ligustrum chinense), is a worse than kudzu, because it grows anywhere – sun, shade, wet soil, dry soil. And when the white, sickeningly sweet flowers open in spring, your sinuses are Ground Zero. Kill all privet. I’m totally serious.
White mulberry (Morus alba)
Like box elder, this weedy tree is pure garbage. Yes, I’m aware that birds and people love the sweet purple-black fruit borne by female trees. Birds celebrate their meal by splattering purple poop on anyone and anything below. Male trees fill the air with nasty pollen. A gardener once asked me, “What’s the best time to prune a mulberry tree?” I replied, “Whenever you can find a chainsaw.”