March 9, 2013
It's spring! The sun peeks out, birds are singing...and, sigh...my head is a bit plugged up today. Windblown pollen is everywhere in this light dry breeze. Even if my own immune system is overreacting when I breathe it in (and more so every year it seems) I can't help but respect the scale of reproductive hopefulness all this pollen represents.
The very earliest pollen producers in this area are members of the Birch family, Betulaceae, most notably Red Alder (Alnus rubra).
These trees produce separate male and female flowers on the same tree, called catkins (the word comes from the Dutch katteken, meaning kitten...ripe catkins do look like a kitten's tail).
On Feb 13, they looked like this (left), and today they look like this (right)
If by some chance the timing and location is right, fertilization occurs, the female flower grows a conelike fruit about the seeds, which are wind-dispersed later in the year. These brown "cones" stay on the tree for years.
I decided to put my photo-microscope to use (I usually use it to track plankton populations in the bays). On the left is alder pollen (400x), on the right is hazelnut pollen. There were fewer Hazelnut grains, and in worse shape than the Alder - that species is finishing up its pollination season.
Just for fun, while I had the scope out, I shook the flowers of two non-wind-pollinated plants onto slides to see their pollen. Right now, Salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis) is in full flower (left), and there were a couple of very early outlier Dewberry, aka Trailing Blackberry, flowers (Rubus ursinus), right. There are very few insects out and about right now, but the resident Anna's Hummingirds are loving the Salmonberry.
How's spring springing in your neighborhood? Changes or developments? What's coming or going? Drop a note in the Bucket with your observations!
Update: March 10
Drizzle has replaced the sun of yesterday. Airborne pollen has been washed out of the air, and my symptoms are much improved. Yay for drizzle in Alder pollen season. Still to come is Pine pollen season, when I get such big drifts of the stuff I have to scrape it off my windshield to see.