Pollen wafts in, tears drip out
By WES ALLISON
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 2, 2001
Runny nose? Watery eyes? Green car?
Events apparently have conspired to make Florida's oak trees shed extra pollen extra early this year, irritating the noses and lungs of the allergic and covering everything with yellow-green dust. Pool cleaners are having a particularly nasty time of it.
If you want to blame something other than the oaks' flowers, which are simply doing what comes naturally, blame Tampa Bay's favorite weather villains: The unusually cold winter and, of course, The Drought.
Opal Schallmo, urban horticulturist at the Pinellas County Cooperative Extension Service, says persistent cold caused trees and other plants to go dormant, allowing them to stock up on energy.
Now awake, they're pollinating with gusto, she said.
With no rain, all that pollen has been allowed to waft about in the air, unabated.
"Normally, it's so mild, they breeze along and don't have to (go dormant)," said Schallmo, whose office has gotten several hundred calls this week about the pollen.
"Most plants, when they go dormant, something triggers them to bloom," Schallmo said. "We had steady cold weather for two months there, cold every day. Once the warm weather comes, they're . . . much more productive."
Almost every day, Dr. Rosa Codina, assistant professor of allergy and immunology at the University of South Florida, counts airborne mold and pollen from trees, weeds and grasses by microscopically inspecting the particles caught in two pollen collectors mounted atop her office in north Tampa.
On Wednesday, she counted 3,268 particles of tree pollen per cubic meter -- quite a jump from the previous weekly average of 720. Nearly all of it came from oaks, although Australian pine and juniper contributed, too. Other pines produce pollen but aren't allergenic.
Florida has 11 species of oak, but the live oak and the laurel oak blooming now tend to cause the most trouble. The oaks flower in succession and make for a long tree pollen season that usually lasts from late January to June.
Typically, oak pollen peaks the third week of March, but it appears to be peaking now instead, Codina said. Neither she nor Schallmo knew if that means the oak season also will end earlier than usual, or be heavy for longer.
In the meantime, allergy sufferers are advised to stay indoors and take medication if need be. As with so many things these days, a good rain would help considerably.
"If all of the pollen is shed at one time, usually it's about a three-week period," Schallmo said. "If that's the case, it would be over. Hopefully they won't have a second bloom. I think this is probably it."
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