Pollen season springs into action

by | Mar 25, 2015

Forestry-Files-740x420As plants begin to wake up from a winter that won’t seem to end, tissue sales are soaring. It’s that dreaded time of the year — allergies season. The bad news? Innocent bystanders (like you and me) suffer as we inhale the car-coating, sidewalk-dusting, yellow pollen. The good news? It’s part of an important cycle that perpetuates the forests of our state. Nothing breathes life into springtime quite like the efforts of trees to reproduce through the prolific output of pollen.

Pollen floats near the water’s edge at Harris Lake.  Image: K. Oten, NCFS.

Pollen floats near the water’s edge at Harris Lake. Image: K. Oten, NCFS.

There are two types of pollination when it comes to trees: those that are pollinated by insects or other animals and those that rely on wind.

The initial thought when one thinks of a pollinator garden are colorful, charismatic flowers. But there are many trees that look to the six-legged critters, especially bees, as well. Apples, yellow poplar, basswood, cherries, black locust, catalpa, horse chestnut, tulip tree and willows top the list of species that rely on pollinators. As such, these trees often have blooms that are flashy, large and/or fragrant to attract bees, birds and other insects that help spread their pollen.

On the other hand, wind-pollinated trees are the culprit during allergy season. It’s a pollination strategy that relies partly on luck. Wind-pollinated trees, like pines and oaks, release copious, uncountable, annoying amounts of pollen into the air with the hopes that some will land where it needs to. But this is all needed for seeds to be created and for seedlings to grow. Although it annoys us, it is necessary to sustain the regeneration in our forests.

So while a visit to the car wash may be in your near future, rest assured it’s a temporary and necessary natural event. And thank the bees and butterflies for doing a much cleaner job of pollinating.