The Daily Southerner, Tarboro, NC

April 10, 2012

Spring is in the air, but that's not all

Alice Jones Webb

TARBORO — Spring is in the air, but it's not the only thing.  The weather in Eastern North Carolina these past few weeks has been glorious.  It makes me want to shake off the sleepy sluggishness of winter, bask under the bright blue sky, dig in the garden, cook out on the grill, throw open the windows.  Except for one thing.

The pollen.

It drives people indoors just as we're itching to get out.  Billowing clouds of yellow waft in from every direction.  It settles over the landscape like some sort of ashy fallout.  It coats our vehicles, our patios, our lawn furniture, our pets, even the insides of sinuses. It gets tracked all over the carpets carried indoors on the feet of our pets and children and husbands. (Although if they've been told once, they've been told a thousand times to please wipe their feet before they track that god-awful stuff through the house, thank you very much.)

Plus it's a hay fever nightmare.

Or is it?

The chalky yellow pollen that drifts through the air in early spring comes from pollinating pine trees.  Because pine pollen is so visible, it's long been pinned as the cause of early spring allergies.  But surprisingly, pine pollen is a very minor allergy trigger. Pine trees are not the bad guys, at least not when it comes to the sneezing and itchy, watery eyes so many hay fever sufferers experience in early spring.

Pine trees have gone wrong, at least from a public relations stand point, in choosing the same time of year to toss their DNA out onto the wind as other trees.  When the pine is pollinating, other trees like ash, cedar, oak and sycamore — trees with pollen that can really turn on the allergies — are secretly pollinating as well. The pollen from these varieties of trees is microscopic.  We can't see them, but they are the worst offenders in the area of seasonal allergies.

It's just easier to blame the poor old pine trees because the pollen is so darn visible … everywhere ... all the time. It's ruining my early spring bliss.

It might surprise you (although it probably shouldn't) that Nature has a reason for everything, even something as utterly annoying as copious amounts of pine pollen.  All of this airborne pollen is here for a reason, and it's not just for pine tree procreation.

Pine pollen is believed by many natural health enthusiasts to be a highly potent plant source of testosterone.  While pine pollen doesn't actually contain testosterone, it does contain androstenedione.  Androstenedione is an adrenal hormone produced in humans.  Androstenedione can actually raise

testosterone levels. And testosterone is more than just a male sex hormone. Testosterone aids in growth and increases energy.  So as this fine yellow dust settles over the landscape in the early spring, it gives a much needed growth and energy boost to the plants and animals it settles on.  And not a moment too soon as everything is just emerging bleary eyed and sluggish after their long winter's nap.  It's kind of Nature's little nudge to help shake everything awake.

Some people even collect the pine pollen to use when they need a little boost of energy.  How do you collect pine pollen?  Just slip a plastic baggie over the male pollen producers and give it a little shake.  Placing the pollen under the tongue is considered the best way to reap its health benefits, since the digestive system can destroy the androstenedione.  Of course this time of year, you could just go out and lick the hood of your car.  (In all seriousness though, you should consult your doctor before licking pine trees or pollen-dusted car hoods.)

So when we are all cursing this wretched pine tree love affair being

flaunted all over our homes and yards, as we wash away the yellow chalk from our vehicles for the umpteenth time, maybe we should take a minute and be thankful for our friendly misunderstood neighborhood pine trees.  They just might be the reason we feel that burst of spring energy.  They just might be the reason we long to be active outside in the first place.

(The Nature of Tarboro by Alice Jones Webb is a monthly column about wildlife and environmental issues specific to Tarboro and Edgecombe County.)