SEATTLE- With temperatures reaching near 70 and abundant sunshine, the allergy season is about to really take off here in the Pacific Northwest. High pressure overhead also pushes both plant and man-made particulate matter down towards the surface of the Earth where we all live. The result is misery for millions across the country.
Right now, tree pollen is most prevalent in air samples taken from Northwest Asthma & Allergy Center in Seattle. "Higher temperatures will increase pollen production," warns their website. "Dry and windy weather will help with the distribution of pollen," it continues. But, you don't have to tell that to those suffering from seasonal allergies. The biggest offenders in their recent air samples are Birch, Cedar/Juniper, Alder, Cottonwood/Poplar, Maple and Willow.
Knowing more about the biggest pollinators can help you avoid them. Birch trees have flowers that appear before the leaves come onto the trees. Many of the birch family have the signature curling paper looking bark. While many people think of birch trees as white or light-colored, they can come in a many colors and shades. The leaves also can give a birch tree away. They're oval in shape most often and they are what's called "double teethed". That means the jagged looking edges of the each leaf have small "teeth" in between longer "teeth".
Cedar trees are also pollinating right now and are very common trees in Northwest landscapes. You can smell a cedar sometimes before you can spot one. The unique smell that naturally repels moths is one reason why it ends up being made into wooden chests and lining the walls of closets. When you get closer you can really see the fibrous bark that will come off easily in long strips. Cedar trees (and junipers too) don't have leaves like a deciduous tree nor needles like a pine tree. These evergreens have branches that flatten and fan out at the end. If you look closely, you'll see they look like tiny scales.
If you're not allergic to trees, you're literally not out of the woods yet. This is just the beginning of allergy season in the Pacific Northwest. We're seeing the peak of tree pollen season in the next week or two. Coming up next are the grasses. These will end up peaking around Memorial Day. Grass season can be MUCH worse in our region than other parts of the country. If you are sensitive to grasses, avoid traveling to the Willamette Valley of Oregon in May and June. The area between Salem and Eugene touts itself as "the grass seed production capital of the world". The Oregon Seed Council says 420,000 acres in the Willamette Valley are dedicated to growing grass seed. By around mid-May, the weeds will get in on the pollen game. If you're allergic to weeds, you have the toughest go. Once weeds get started around here, they can continue to pollinate until September. The good news is that rainy days in the spring wash a lot of the pollen out of the air, bringing much-needed relief to allergy sufferers. And we have a lot of rainy days in a typical Northwest spring.