Spring is heavily associated, by those of us who are chronic sufferers, with allergies. The trees start pollinating as early as February and by the time they are finished the job is taken over by grasses in May.
Dr. Estelle Levetin, professor and Chair of Biological Sciences, explained the process. “We see a transition going from the early pollinators like cedar and elm (those are really high in February) and now we’re in the throws of everything,” she said.
Oak, mulberry, birch, ash, hackberry and sycamore are all pollinating by March. “Mulberry seems especially high this year,” she added.
All of those types of pollen continue through mid-April, “then in April we start picking up a few other pollen types including pecan and walnut.”
Levetin was initially concerned about the pollen count for this season because of the dry winter: “I thought that maybe the plants might be stressed.” Luckily, it doesn’t look that way. The pollen levels seem to be high.
In a normal year, Levetin described, “as we go from April into May we start picking up some weed and grass pollen as well.”
Levetin said she was surprised when she saw on the news that, “the allergy clinic reported that the grass was high, which is probably a month early for grass pollen.”
The department will not have evidence of the clinic’s claims until Tuesday. However, Levetin was also curious whether or not her slides would show the presence of Rumex, a weed that also pollinates in May, because of the early presence of grass pollen.
According to Levetin, the early presence of certain types of pollen could potentially be caused by warm weather like we had last week.
Levetin also listed the types of pollen which are common allergens in Oklahoma such as cedar, oak, grass and ragweed. Ragweed is usually the worst for Oklahomans, but it is only present in the fall. Grass, on the other hand, is the second most noxious. “If grass pollen is really early that’s bad, and coinciding with high tree pollen, that’s really bad,” Levetin explained.
Levetin pointed out some characteristics and facts about pollen that the average student without a background in biology might not know. For starters, pollen can travel thousands of miles. One of the grad students who worked with Levetin last year was able to prove using molecular techniques that pollen from trees in southern Oklahoma and Texas were found in Ontario, Canada.
Another fun fact is that corn pollen is used in a lot of Native American rituals and various other pollen types are used by local populations around the world for other rituals. For example, “they may shower people with pollen for good luck,” she explained.
You can also buy pollen collected by bees in the pollen sacs on their wings as a health food in some places.
The niftiest thing about pollen, though: “They’re beautiful. When you look at them under the electron microscope they’re magnificent.”