by Mark Brunson
I love trees, but trees don’t always love me. The trouble is: I’m susceptible to pollen allergies, and those allergies are always worst in springtime when trees are the primary culprits.
Where I live in northern Utah, my allergy season begins in mid- to late March as the wind begins transmitting juniper pollen, and it ends around the third week of June when the American linden has finished blooming. My town is full of allergenic trees, and so is my yard.
A recent study I did found that the most commonly planted urban trees in our area include Norway maple, green ash, quaking aspen, and box elder – all of which are wind-pollinated, and thus send pollen granules hither and yon in search of another tree to bear their seed.
Of course some of that pollen ends up being inhaled by human nostrils. We bought our home in part because it had a mature, shade-filled landscape. This means sharing my life with serious pollen-generators like lilacs, maples, cottonwoods, aspens, spruce, and pines.
Being insect-pollinated and only moderately allergenic, I’m not entirely sure why the American linden (some call it basswood) has elicited my greatest ire over the years. Maybe it’s because by the time the linden blooms I’ve endured three months of sneezing and am at the height of my allergy frustration. Or maybe it’s the strong fragrance that makes lindens so difficult to ignore.
One tree in particular has drawn my antipathy over the years: a large and robust specimen in the courtyard of the Utah State University campus building next to mine. I called it the allergy tree. Not only did it made me sneeze, but also it was my pollen barometer. I knew that when its blossoms began to fade, I could gleefully put away my Claritin for the season.
Last week I heard chainsaws outside my building. I looked out to see men cutting down the allergy tree to make room for a renovation of the building next door. And I’m surprised to find that it makes me very sad. It wasn’t the tree’s fault that its pollen made me sneeze, and it wasn’t the tree’s fault that it grew so big and healthy that it got in the way of construction crews. I’ll surely find another linden to use as my barometer, but it won’t do the job as well. I guess that just means love of trees is as complicated as love of people.
Mark Brunson is a professor of Environment and Society at Utah State University, where he studies how people affect nature and how nature affects people.
Tilia americana photo from Wikimedia Commons.
Remains of "the allergy tree" photo by the author.