Jun 23, 2011

Sex on the Wind

A recent question to members of an online gardening forum was: 'how do you know summer has really arrived' where you live?' Replies from around the country included comments about hot weather, certain insects becoming a problem, etc. Here in Bend, the answer, for gardeners and non-gardeners alike is: 'pine pollen'!

It's everywhere. Bright greenish yellow and gritty, it covers every outdoor surface and object, filters in through every open door and window, and settles in puddles left by irrigation overspill. In some places it piles up in drifts.

Those who suffer from allergies rush around fearfully, complaining loudly about the pollen, though according to local allergists, the pollen is too large to be an actual allergen. Grasses that bloom profusely now are more likely responsible for all the sneezing and dripping. It really is an amazing phenomena. I'm sorry I didn't get video of the yellow clouds that spurt forth from the trees when a gust of wind hits them.

Here are the culprits.

Pinus ponderosa aka Ponderosa Pine or Yellow Pine. This wonderful tree has a huge range in the West, from British Columbia to Mexico, and all the way east to Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas. It has beautiful thick, platey bark that resists fire

and a delicious vanilla scent on warm summer days, which can be sampled by sticking one's nose deep into the cracks between bark plates (keeping an eye out for passing ants).

In the garden, they tower over the houses and create dry shade at their bases. This grandfather tree sits right next to the front door, embraced by the foliage of a vine maple.

And here is the source of all the trouble.

I chuckle sometimes, as I hear people complaining about the yellow dust on their cars, drifting through the air, and dusting the laundry hung out to dry. How many of us remember that pollen is just the botanical name for plants' male reproductive bits? Yes, we are indeed all covered with pine sperm!

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