The bane of many a Southerner’s existence is springtime pollen. All that yellow dust swirling on the breeze and coating your car, that’s pine tree sperm.
The male cones of a Loblolly Pine (Pinus taeda) look like a bunch of tiny bananas growing from twig tips. If you’re thinking, “wait, that’s not a cone,” the woody cone we use to hot glue decorative wreaths or smear with peanut butter for DIY bird feeders is the female cone. Its spirals of woody shingles (or bracts) protect the tree’s eggs and, after fertilization, the developing pine embryos inside.
Male cones are much smaller and shorter lived. They release pollen for a couple of weeks each spring. And it’s a LOT of pollen: 3-5 pounds per tree. Why so much? Pines transfer pollen from male to female cones by wind. It’s not a very efficient system. More pollen increases the chance of fertilization.
With Climate Change, pollen’s gonna get worse. Ladeau and Clark (2006) found that pines growing in an elevated CO2 environment produce more pollen cones, and more pollen, at younger ages.
p.s. If you ever wondered what a pine pollen grain looks like, it’s a microscopic Mickey Mouse logo!
Ladeau SL, Clark JS. 2006. Pollen production by Pinus taeda growing in elevated atmospheric CO2. Functional Ecology. 20(3) 541-547.
I’m sneezing already! (K)
It’s killing us here in NJ also. My eyes are squeezed shut and so is my nose. N.
Here’s the good news, N: it only peaks for ~2 weeks (although that’s a long time to go without eyes and a nose).
I hadn’t really considered pine cones being male or female before. Also, that bird feeder sounds interesting. 🙂
Speaking of yellow dust, when I used to live in Korea for a year that was the name for fine yellow dust that had blown in from the Gobi in China. Of course, it would irritated your throat to breath and had picked up air pollution along the way, so during part of the year there were daily warnings of whether it’d be a high dust day.
Also, it was called yellow dust because that’s exactly how it looked. On a very high dust day there might be a light coating of fine yellowish dust on parked cars. 🙂
True! Totally different kind of yellow dust! I think I’ll take pollen over pollution.
I like the layout of this. It makes for very interesting shapes. Thanks!
Thank you! And nice work on your guest blog on Doodlewash! (https://doodlewash.com/2016/04/01/guest-doodlewash-seize-the-day-or-the-ten-minutes/)
Hi thanks for following my blog! I look forward to following yours too!