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Follow the yellow brick road

April 5, 2019
By JOYCE COMINGORE - Garden Club of Cape Coral ( , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

Oh, wait Dorothy, that's not bricks, that's pollen covering the road and the cars. Here in Southwest Florida, tree pollen can begin as early as February and last through May. See those beautiful slash pine trees? A pine is any conifer in the genus Pinus of the family Pinaceae, the sole genus of that family. Blame the male pinecones, caught them in the act. Seems like males are always getting blamed for everything that goes wrong in this world, but now you are right. Males, but what would we do without them? They make the world go 'round.

That yellow dust is pollen dust carrying the plants DNA to the female pinecones. The male cones are smaller than the female cones and produce large amounts of pollen each spring in order to ensure the seeds in the female cones are fertilized and, ta-da, now their species can survive. The pollen is large and heavy, covered with a waxy coating, which is why it coats everything when it drops to the ground. Pine pollen doesn't really linger in the air to cause allergies, it is too heavy. It is generally all the other trees producing pollen at the same time. Their flowers may be tiny, easily overlooked, but their fine floating pollen is the culprit making you sneeze.

Later in the year other plants like grasses and ragweed cause your hay fever. The bright yellow goldenrod gets blamed then, but it's the ragweed's fault. It isn't always what it seems.

Across the country, pollen isn't produced until late spring, but Florida's climate gives us a jump on the process. With the highest count coming in the morning, 5 a.m. to 10 a.m., that leaves the afternoons free to mingle outdoors.

People think that large or fragrant flowers on trees shed their allergic pollen, but their pollen is large and sticky, making their pollen fall straight to the ground. They depend on insects and not the wind to spread their pollen, so we are not breathing in that pollen. Another misconception is, if you didn't have an allergy as a child, you are allergy free as an adult. Allergies come on rapidly and even as an adult you can develop them. When moving, you can develop an allergy to something new in the air. Don't think moving to the beach will help, because pollen can be airborne and blown for hundreds of miles. The beaches have their own grasses and plants that increase allergic reactions.

Exposure sets off your histamines in your eyes respiratory tract giving you the following problems: Itchy, teary, watery red eyes; bags under your eyes; runny noses; sneezing and congestion; coughing fits; or sore throats. Children often develop a creases on their noses from rubbing the tips of their runny noses upwards, called the allergic salute. Pollen can also trigger asthma that makes breathing difficult, leading to coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath. Sometimes described as a bad cold that won't go away, it affects our quality of life, work and sleep.

Since we know what time of year our reactions start, we can prepare ourselves by avoiding contact with the pollen as much as possible. Limit outdoor time, close windows in cars and home, some even wear a mask; eliminate offending trees and plants in your yard; keep your windows and doors shut. No opening doors and windows to inhale deeply of the "fresh" air; avoid outdoor activities early in the day; check the local forecasts; bathe at night to keep pollen from spreading all over your sheets and bedding; vacuum often (sometimes with a mask); clean and replace air filters in your air conditioner as recommended.

I remember the cleansing frenzy my mother went into when Aunt Norma, with her allergies, was coming to visit. I and my friends took allergy tests to determine what to avoid. Be in discussions with your physician to determine what the best action is for you. A doctor can recommend the best action or medicine (an antihistamine) or allergy shots. A nasal saline rinse or irrigation several times a day helps.

This is usually the most gorgeous time of year and it would be a shame to stay indoors. Thank goodness for clothes dryers, no need to hang clothes outside on the lines exposing your clothes and linens to the pollens. The concern about the availability and cost of Epi-pens to counteract allergy episodes is mounting.

In Florida, allergy season lasts 10 months of the year. The rainy season is May to October. There is a hurricane season from June through November. Our dry season is November through April, with

January as the driest month. Most forest fires are in May. Northerners are dealing with the end of winter, while we have been the land of sunshine, warm weather and lush foliage. Blessings and a curse.

Our perpetual blooms with pollen give us give us a longer and stronger allergy season with different allergen-producing plants peaking at different times of the season. Our wheezing, sneezing and sniffling are almost a perpetual habit for allergy sufferers. Our weather reports usually remind us of the pollen count so we can be forewarned. Participating in outdoor activities when pollen counts are lower, after rains and in the evenings, find air conditioning to filter the air, shower after being in outdoor activities, are all reminders for staying pollen free.

Since it's difficult to name a tree without pollen to try and relieve allergies, and pine trees are not exempt, finding one to thank for all the oxygen giving and carbon dioxide removing they do is a task.

Their good out-numbers their faults.

Joyce Comingore is a Master Gardener, hibiscus enthusiast and member of the Garden Club of Cape Coral.



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