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Gardening in Gwinnett: Pollen is a major springtime irritation but it has an important purpose

Springtime in Gwinnett County brings forth the beauty of many blooming plants. Redbuds, dogwoods, cherry trees, azaleas and many others color the landscape of our communities. However, many people suffer respiratory problems resulting from pollen produced by some of these plants.

Pollen is the male part of the life of plants. It is transferred from one flower to another and goes into the female parts of the flowers to produce seeds. Pollen is a necessary part of plant reproduction, and is present in great volumes during the springtime. Not all pollen causes the allergies some people have, and most of it is not the source of the troubles.

Pines produce pollen in vast amounts and can cover everything.

AN Individual pine pollen grain haS two large wings on it to help it disperse through the air, causing the pollen to be big enough to be visible. Pine pollen is released by the male cones on the ends of the branches usually when the humidity is low and the weather is warm and windy. The wind-pollinated trees release large amounts of pollen to improve the likelihood the pollen will pollinate female flowers.

Sometimes, it's not the obvious plant causing the allergies. Many would blame the yellow pollen from pine trees, but pine pollen does not the cause the allergies. The real culprit causing the problems is the pollen produced by the various weeds, grasses and trees such as oaks, birch and hickories. The pollen grains are much smaller, and have chemicals in them that can lead to the respiratory problems and sore eyes so many people suffer from. Sometimes the allergies are not caused by pollen at all, but by molds and mildews, which occur both outside and inside the home, and are a year-round problem.

Not much can be done to prevent pine pollen from falling on everything, other than just washing it off and sweeping it away if possible.

The smaller-grained pollen from weeds, grasses and other trees - there are a few things than can be done to mitigate their effects. Limit outdoor activities during periods when the pollen content is high, especially on warm, dry days. Rain can remove pollen from the air, as well as wash it away, and the pollen levels are often much lower after rainfall and on humid days. Weather reports on local TV news stations give information on the pollen content so you can plan your day around it. If you must work outdoors, wearing a dust mask can help in reducing inhalation of the pollen. In the home, leave the windows and doors closed and use a hypoallergenic air conditioning filter. If the allergies are serious, consult with a physician. Also, check your home for the presence of mold and mildew, which are present year-round.

Pollen is a fact of life we all must deal with every spring.

Remember, pollen is an essential part of the reproduction of plants and is a miracle of nature. The pollen grain is a container for DNA, and is the means by which genetic diversity is maintained by plants. Without pollen, we would not have plants. In spite of the troubles pollen causes every year, we can appreciate it as well.

Timothy Daly is an agriculture and natural resources agent with the Gwinnett County Extension Service. He can be reached at 678-377-4010 or Timothy.daly@gwinnettcounty.com.