Time for Trees to Do Their Thing

Sneezin’ Season Early

Haaaachuuu! That sneeze you hear from your kids in the family room or from a co-worker in the cubicle next to you is probably not someone with a cold. Instead, chances are hay fever is to blame for the hacking and coughing.

First off, I add a word of caution. Hay fever is not caused by hay. As for fever, forget about it. Your temperature does not elevate when you have it. Dr. Chandra Kumar of the Asthma and Allergy Center is Charleston taught me this many years ago. But don’t tell that to teachers and employers alike that see first hand the millions of school and work days lost at this time of year.

The clinical term for hay fever is a rather uncomfortable sounding phrase known as allergic rhinitis. Clearly, hay fever fits the bill as a more user friendly term. Now allergic rhinitis refers to the seasonal response that we as humans have to the naturally occurring pollens and molds that fill our air in the warm weather season. If you suffer you know what I mean.

If you are unsure if you have a cold or hay fever, then there is a sure fire test to perform. When you clean your nose, if the residue coming out (I prefer not to use any other slimy terms to describe the drainage from your nose) is clear, it is a sure sign of hay fever. If the residue is discolored, then you likely have an old fashioned cold.

OK, so we need to talk about this year’s pollen seasons. Now that the daytime highs are soaring into the 60s and 70s, the birds are chirping, flowers are bursting and yes, tree buds are swelling. This sets into motion the action of trees pollinating. We as humans breathe. Well, in spring, trees too like to breathe and as they do they send spurts of pollen into the air. Think of a pollen grain as a microscopic morsel of plant residue (there’s that word again). Trees produce millions of these particles every day in their early stages of warm weather development.

Now consider the obvious. We here in Appalachia live in one of the most densely forested regions of the world. The sign on Third Avenue in Huntington near St. Mary’s says it all. Welcome to Huntington, Tree City USA! In fact, I still recall in 1990 then Boyd County extension agent Mike Pettit bragging how our area is one of only 3 in the world with as wide a variety of evergreen and deciduous trees (the Andes in South America and Alps in Europe are the others). That accounts for why our region is a tourist haven in October when the leaves provide their gorgeous fall colors. The flip side of that, we have all sorts of trees to pollinate the air. Is it any wonder that Dr. Matthew Wilson has dubbed our region, the “Sinus valley”?

As predicted, Tuesday’s highs in the 70s sent trees into a pollinating frenzy. Pollen counts rose into the high range for the first time this spring. The warmth of Tuesday night will assure an even higher pollen start to Wednesday. But with showers arriving first thing in the morning, much of the early pollen will be washed from the air. From there soaking showers will cleanse the air of leftover pollen Wednesday night and Thursday. Finally, when cold air arrives Friday, the pollinating factories in trees will be tricked into a St. Patty’s weekend furlough. That’s a fancy way of saying trees will hibernate again this weekend keeping the air pollen free! Ah, that means Leprechauns will breathe fresh, cold but pollen free air this weekend!

Look for more on pollen seasons in the weeks to come, since after all trees pollinate up a storm thru mid April then grasses take over by May and Memorial Day before ragweed arrives in August!

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