Gardening With Tony
Pollen Is Nothing To Sneeze At . . . Or Is It?
By Tony Tomeo
Jun 3, 2012 - 3:50:26 PM

BEVERLY HILLS—Have you ever wondered why it is sometimes difficult to know which flowers cause the worst allergies at any particular time? It is for the same reason that it can be difficult to find the flowers that produce the most fragrance. They simply do not need flashy colors to attract pollinators. Fragrant flowers instead use fragrance to attract pollinators. Flowers that are the worst for allergies simply put less effort into attracting pollinators, since they prefer to get their pollen delivered by wind. Yes, wind; it is one hundred percent natural and absolutely free.

Light yellow variegated foliage of 'Ogon' sweet flag brightens partly shaded spots. Sweet flag is also useful in ponds.

Pollen than is designed to be dispersed by wind seems to perform just as well without it, by floating through the air, which is like 'diet wind'. Unlike the pollen of big colorful flowers that is heavy and sticky in order to adhere to pollinators, pollen that is designed to be dispersed by wind (or diet wind) is extremely finely textured and abundant. Since it is not so directly and efficiently delivered between flowers, it gets everywhere and into everything, with the hopes that some of it, if even just a few particles, will reach the flowers that it wants to pollinate.

Pollen that primarily relies on wind for dispersion is like all those millions of bulk mailing fliers that get mailed out to everyone so that one or two or perhaps a few might reach someone who might actually be interested in getting one. Pollen from big flashy flowers are more like fancy Christmas cards that we send directly to friends, family and neighbors, but would be too expensive to send to millions of uninterested people. The problem is that like so much junk mail that clogs mailboxes, wind dispersed pollen is too abundant, which makes it a serious problem for those who are allergic to it. There is no escape when it fills the air.

The many wind pollinated plants that bloom in secret are the worst for pollen production. Unremarkable flowers of pines, cypress and cedars are among the worst. Acacias and eucalyptus are nearly as bad; but at least some have colorful bloom. Although hedged privets are not often able to bloom (because their flower structures get shorn off), privets that are allowed to grow into trees produce wicked pollen, even at a young age. Wild grasses may not seem like they would be much of a threat in urban landscapes, but their pollen travels for many miles to find victims.

Unfortunately, there is no way to control all the plants that produce objectionable pollen. We can only contend with those in our own gardens and be aware of what else is out there in the neighborhood.

Foliage of the week: Sweet Flag

After many centuries of being grown for use in herbal medicine, sweet flag, Acorus gramineus, is still a popular evergreen perennial; but is now appreciated more for its low mounds of grassy foliage. 'Ogon', one of the most popular cultivars, has light yellow variegated foliage that contrasts well with deep green foliage, or brightens partially shaded spots in the garden. Individual clumps grow quickly to about eight inches tall and broad, and then spread slowly by producing more shoots. New plants are easily propagated by division. Sweet flag likes plenty of water, and does well in partially submerged pots in koi ponds, or poorly drained spots.

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