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Beyond Pollmageddon 2019

We’ve all seen it, but what the heck is pollen anyway, why is it EVERYWHERE, and what does it even do?

By: 
Jason Stanley
April 16, 2019

First things first, if you live in North Carolina then you are more than familiar with pollen. But if you are anything like me, it tends to be a seasonal nuisance that you deal with as best you can, and maybe you never really gave it more thought beyond that. So what exactly is pollen?

Pollen is a yellow powdery substance produced by male plants. Ok, you probably knew that. It is made up of grains, which consist of male gametes encapsulated by a hard coating of sporopollenin. What are male gametes, you say? Sperm cells. Yep, you read that correctly. Your house, car, and everything else is covered in plant sperm. Seems like overkill, right? Those male plants are really trying to, literally, spread their seed around.

The sporopollenin encapsulated gametes are the mechanism for delivering the male reproductive cell from the stamens to pistilof of female plants. What we are seeing now in North Carolina is primarily the result of pine pollen, we are the land of the longleaf pine, after all. For pine trees and other conifers pollen facilitates the transfer of male gametes from the male cone to the female cones. Did you know that pine trees had male and female cones? Full disclosure, I didn’t.

The process of pollination is important because it is how plants reproduce, and we all love our native trees here in North Carolina. We’ve had so much pollen this year that we’ve garnered international attention from the likes of the BBC World News, who shared a now popular aerial photo of a pollen haze over durham. It’s even been called Pollmageddon. So as far as the rest of the world knows, we are kind of known for Snowmageddon and now Pollmaggedon.  

The good news?

Usually our pollen levels peak in a one to two week span. You can check the most recent pollen report in North Carolina by visiting the state environmental agency website. We saw a peak in tree pollen on April 10th that has been decreasing ever since. We’ve also been fortunate in the amount of rain we have experienced recently, which has washed away much of the pollen we were seeing. The bad news? Grass pollen is starting to ramp up, which tends to cause more allergic reactions for a lot of people.

So grab your Allegra and Benadryl and hang on, we’re in for another heavy pollen season here in the Tar Heel state. As we enjoy the spring flush and our forests and yards green up we’ll think back and think it was all worth it… right?

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