Sunday, March 24, 2013

Achoo - It's Yellow Horde Season Again!

     One fine spring day about twelve years ago I was chatting with a Chinese friend and noticed a tell-tale yellow tinge to the air.  This became more prominent with each little gust of breeze.  "Oh," I said, "It's yellow horde season again."  She bristled.  Without even thinking, I had angered her until she came to understand what I was talking about.  You see, long before I had any inkling that 'yellow horde' might be a term used to refer to people I knew it as a term used to refer to the annual onslaught of yellow pollen in the spring.  As a kid growing up in South Carolina I remember the lakes that surrounded our neighborhood turning from their usual black to bright yellow.  Then when the wind would blow it was as if someone was pushing a thin layer of yellow paint around on the water creating a wrinkled yellow scum.  I also remember the choking yellow dust that filled your nose and gave you a constant sense of being dried out and in a dust storm.  The stuff got in you eyes like a gritty sand blast, and filled the air like yellow fog.  As an adult, I find that the yellow horde is just as prominent in North Carolina; it just comes into full force a bit later in the year.
     Pollen season begins in this area with the red maple trees in late January and early February.  To most people they simply appear as a slight red tinge to the otherwise bare branches.  To the allergic, the first sign is often an unreasonable amount of sneezing followed by a glance out the window to see that faint red in the forest canopy.  That early pollen rush is not really the yellow horde though.  It's just an early warning inconvenience.
     The 'real' yellow horde to me is the pine pollen season.  Pine pollen is massive in both quantity and in the size of the pollen grains.  When the pines bloom, there is no escape.  Yellow becomes a way of life for awhile.  The ground and everything on it turns yellow.  Clouds of the stuff drift in the wind and the air turns yellow.  Rain gathers it up in great yellow rivers.  Invariably for those who have allergy issues, sneezing, runny nose and watery eyes become a way of life.
     What most people don't realize is that the pine pollen is not the cause of their misery.  Pine pollen is relatively large in size.  It is designed to fall to the ground in order to pollinate the next generation of trees.  In fact, pine trees produce separate sex flowers on the same tree but in separate locations.  Male flowers tend to be located on or near the top of the tree and female flowers on the more sturdy lower branches.  Thus pollen filtering to the ground has a better chance of coming in contact with the female flowers.  As large heavy grains, pine pollen is really too heavy to get too far into the human system except by ingesting.  In addition, the chemical composition of pine pollen keeps it from being a serious allergen.  All that dry mouth comes from sucking that stuff in through your mouth and swallowing.
     Unfortunately, oak pollen is surprisingly small and light.  It can travel on the wind for several miles.  The hickories also have similar properties.  By chance these trees happen to bloom at the same time as the pine.  They produce separate sex flowers on the same tree, but depend on the wind to carry the pollen to the female flowers.  Thus the need for a fine dust-like pollen grain.  The chemical composition of these pollens helps to contribute to the allergy issues that they create.
     Juniper is also a serious pollen allergen.  They produce massive quantities of very tiny pollen, especially when the conditions of a nice wet spring occur, often producing more pollen than the notorious ragweed.  Plus, their pollen can drift for miles.  To add to their punch, the protein coat of the individual grains have an unusually  irritating effect on the human immune system.  Unfortunately, many of the junipers also  bloom at a similar time to the pines and oaks and for years people were encouraged to plant juniper as a ground cover in masses.  Not only did they not make a good ground cover because of the difficulty of keeping weeds and trash out of them, they also added a lovely one-two punch of adding to seasonal allergy misery in enormous ways.
     It might not help you to feel better when you are being attacked by the annual yellow horde, but it is good to know that your allergy is not likely to be caused by the pine tree near your window.  It could actually be caused by that oak forest several miles away or by your neighbor's ugly trash covered hillside of juniper.  Regardless of the cause, the good news is that it will not last forever.  In a month or so it will go away for the year.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for posting this informative article thanks for sharing your great post,wish you have a nice day,happy every day.

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