Oak pollen on the rise

Central Texas get more than their fair share

By Paul Schattenberg

Central Texas allergy sufferers are having a tough time because oak trees have been producing significantly more pollen this spring, said Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service horticulturists serving the area.

Daphne Richards, AgriLife Extension horticulturist, Travis County, said a major reason oak trees in the region have been producing more pollen goes back to last fall.

“Last fall we had a lot of rain followed by a nice long period of winter cold, which the oaks  haven’t had in many years,” she said. “These factors combined with the additional rains we’ve had recently created optimal flowering conditions for oaks trees in this region. So a lot of people in Central Texas have been seeing an abundance of yellow pollen and live oak catkins on their lawns and streets, and covering their cars.”

Catkins are the worm-shaped male pollen tassels that fall and collect around oak trees after pollination.

Richards said fall rains just before the oak trees would normally go dormant, then subsequent rains this spring, provided the oaks an extra pollination punch.

“In the season leading up to flower production, if there’s a lot of rain, there may be more resources for a tree to produce more flowers, focusing on future offspring,” she noted. “Oak trees typically flower and produce their pollen in March and April. They bloom and flowers open, then the wind spreads the pollen that lands on your windshield or in your nose.”

“The volume of catkins you see on the ground and streets gives you pretty good indication of the amount of pollination that’s occurring,” she said.

David Rodriguez, AgriLife Extension horticulturist, Bexar County, said he would be curious to see if there will be a record acorn crop as a result of the amount of pollination this spring.

“I’ve had a lot of people also comment on the number of catkins in their grass and I tell them not to be concerned as this material breaks down rapidly in the soil, so there is no need to remove and dispose of it,” he said. “Not only that, those catkins can serve a useful purpose by being mowed and incorporated in the lawn or used in flower beds as a short-term mulch. It can also be added to your compost pile.”

Richards said now is a tough time of year for people with allergies associated with flora as they typically suffer from them in the spring when plants are flowering and there’s a lot of pollen in the air.

“But people in this region who are still feeling the effects of an oak pollen allergy at this juncture are probably just being affected by the leftover pollen still circulating in the air. We’re actually getting pretty close to the end of the time frame when oak pollen will be a real problem for people with that particular allergy.”

Unfortunately, Richards added, there will be additional plant allergens from grasses and other flowering plants through the spring and beyond, so she suggests waiting a while before putting the handkerchief back in the drawer.

“Allergy season is cyclical and happens whenever allergens are in the air,” she said. “It’s truly never-ending; it just goes up and down. But more of the population is allergic to pollen from wind-pollinated plants, and that pollen is most prolific in the spring.”

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