Your allergies are bad because of tree sexism

I'm one of those people who's damn near allergic to everything — or at least, according to my doctor, to all forms of dust and tree pollen, which might as well be everything. This was particularly frustrating at the start of the COVID-19 outbreak this spring, as every day I woke up with a scratchy throat or runny nose I immediately assumed the worst. (Don't worry, I'm fine; it was allergies every god damn time.)

While I tend to thrive better in cities that offer some respite from our botanical oxygen-pooping friends, I recently learned that American urban planning generally favors male trees, which produce more pollen. From Atlas Obscura:

[W]hen [Tom Ogren, horticulturalist and author of Allergy-Free Gardening: The Revolutionary Guide to Healthy Landscaping] studied frequently landscaped plants in other cities, he noticed the same thing: males, all the way down. “Right away I started realizing there was something weird going on,” he says. While tracking down the origin of this trend, Ogren stumbled upon perhaps the first trace of sexism in urban landscaping in a 1949 USDA Yearbook of Agriculture. The book advised: “When used for street plantings, only male trees should be selected, to avoid the nuisance from the seed.”

Urban forestry’s apparent sexism seems to boil down to our distaste for litter. The USDA reasoned that tiny allergenic spores are likely to be blown away by wind or washed away by rain, making pollen an easier civic task to manage than, say, overripe fruit or heavy seed pods that would need to be cleaned up by actual humans.

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Backhoe operator releases "pollen bomb" by tapping tree

Warning: Just watching this video could trigger an allergic reaction.

Eric Henderson of Millville, New Jersey wondered what would happen if he tapped a pollen-laden tree with his backhoe. He soon discovered it would unleash a Hell storm of pollen.

According to Pollen.com, the pollen count is high in that area (no kidding!):

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I had a lot of POLLEN in my HERB grinder

My herb grinder collects a lot of pollen, and I had forgotten it was there. This handy pollen press lets me efficiently store and use it! Read the rest

You probably need more pollen-covered bats in your life

The undisputed king of cute pollen-faced bat photography is Merlin D. Tuttle of Bat Conservation International. If you like tequila, thank a bat! Read the rest

Happy Spring!

It's the first day of Spring! To celebrate, here is a photo that science journalist Maryn McKenna took of her car windshield in Atlanta, Georgia, coated with a single day's worth of pollen. Please file "tree bukkake" under "Things I Do Not Miss About the South".

Interesting science side note on this: It's pretty well-documented that climate changes are affecting pollen production, pollen exposure, and allergies.

USDA scientist Lewis Ziska, among other researchers, has found that ragweed is one of the plants whose growth is most enhanced by exposure to higher concentrations of carbon dioxide. Not only does the ragweed grow faster when exposed to more CO2, it also produces more pollen. This is especially an issue in cities, which have higher concentrations of CO2 than rural areas, thanks to having a higher concentration of cars and other CO2 emitting sources. Extra bonus: There's also some evidence that allergy seasons are getting longer, as Spring starts earlier and Winter takes longer to truly set in.

You can read more about this in the report from the IPCC's Working Group II and in a paper on the effects of climate change on health written by Ziska and his collaborator, the late Paul Epstein. Read the rest