Gardening | Allergies, anyone?

By Master Gardener Volunteer Lesley Arrandale
mail@floridanewsline.com

I think we are probably over the worst of the pollen season involving common trees like oaks and pines, but my daughter recently found an article in Scientific American, “Botanical Sexism Cultivates Home-Grown Allergies” (https://tinyurl.com/y8trc4ep), which she knew I would appreciate. The title certainly piqued my interest! Apparently plant breeders have unwittingly added to our pollen burden by employing specialist cloning techniques in order to offer male trees to the public, so that we don’t have to bother with the messy fruits and seeds of female trees. One tree introduction that springs to mind is the sweetgum, Liquidambar styraciflua; apparently the cultivar L. styraciflua ‘Rotundiloba’ has been bred to produce only small sterile flowers, and since we all know how troublesome the round prickly seed balls can be, that seems like a good thing.

There are not only male pollen-producing clones of trees in the market, but also shrubs. The article made the point that an overabundance of male pollen-producing trees could be causing the increases in allergies and asthma, especially among children. It is also the case that toxins are absorbed by trees, but then they may be released back into the air in wind-borne pollen, which is alarming, since we breathe in those toxins with the pollen.

The article also described how female trees produce an electrical charge that literally attracts wind-blown pollen to their flowers, thereby reducing the amount of pollen that reaches our olfactory systems. It seems to me that we may need to strike a better balance for our well-being by planting a more natural mix of plant material, and simply enjoy their female flowers. This next article may help: https://tinyurl.com/yxt6tx6b. It describes some of the less allergenic woody plants we could use in our landscapes.

Already the weather is heating up. As of early May we have had a reasonable amount of rain, but according to the drought monitor, areas of central north Florida are “abnormally dry” (https://tinyurl.com/y6d3kkh2). Perhaps it’s time to check on your irrigation practices if you haven’t done so already, since we often miss out on those eastward-sweeping rain bands at this time of year.

The latest edition of A New Leaf is available here: https://tinyurl.com/y6hszolv, and is well worth reading, particularly if you have an interest in becoming a Master Gardener volunteer. Classes are open to all and you don’t need a vast background in horticulture to be considered, just a general interest in gardening and a willingness to learn. The main requirement is that you want to volunteer your time. For vegetable, herb, and fruit growers, Beth Marlowe, our new Urban Garden coordinator, describes the Urban Garden Program and how it benefits our citizens. Terry DelValle reminds us of best lawn mowing practices, and our Urban Forester, Larry Figart, fills us in on the history of our famous Treaty Oak. As always, there are upcoming classes for the general public, and timely tips on what to plant now.

I encourage all NewsLine readers to do their bit for our wonderful Florida. We each have an opportunity, however small our outdoor space, to cater for our wildlife by keeping our immediate environment as chemical-free as possible, and planting beautiful flowers for our valuable pollinating bees and butterflies, and for the other unsung beneficial insects that also do their part. Almost all our birds rely on insects to feed their young, even the delightful ruby-throated hummingbird, and in doing so they keep insect numbers in check. The more we keep our environment in balance, the more we benefit. This summer I hope that by simply keeping grass clippings, fallen leaves, and fertilizer well inside our own properties, either composting those leaves and clippings, or using them as mulch, or even bagging them for collection, the excess nutrients that fueled the algae in the St. Johns River in recent years will be reduced, and the river will stay healthy. We shall see!