Romance of Trees Is in the Air

by Ray Linville


I love springtime. As the late comedian Robin Williams said, “Spring is nature’s way of saying, “Let’s party!”

You know it’s party time when clouds of pollen swirl over your head as a quick breeze lifts the tiny powdery granules. Golden smoke is everywhere this month. You cannot avoid breathing it, stepping in it, or having it cling to your hair or clothes.

Every morning when I open the door and see my car covered in yellow-green dust, I know that nature is partying. Pollen is the male element in the fertilization of seed plants. (Once again, the males are to blame.)

Even after a car is cleaned, less than 24 hours later, it’s covered in pollen again. Save your money and postpone the wash until next month. Just wash yourself; otherwise, you’ll look like a clown speckled with glitter.

The golden smoke motivates us to listen more attentively to weather news and heed the pollen reports, although WRAL meteorologist Greg Fishel acknowledges they are reported irregularly and “featured more when counts are especially high.”

The smart folks at the N.C. Division of Air Quality tell us that there are three types of pollen grains: trees, grasses and weeds. In April, the pollen producers are primarily trees; grass pollen peaks in the summer and weeds increase in pollen production in early fall.

For some reason, DAQ has only one pollen sampler for the entire state, and it’s located in Raleigh. But, we in central North Carolina, don’t need DAQ to tell us if the count is low, moderate or high. We can tell from the pollen layers on our cars.

April is notorious here for having a high count. The Pollen Library lists more than 90 trees that grow in our area and that contribute so much to our misery during their pollination periods.

Fishel says that the dominant tree pollens through mid-April are oak, juniper, birch and pine. The yellow pine pollen really takes off “a day or two into April. It usually takes about two to four weeks to run its course,” he says.

Although many people in our area think that pine pollen is the cause of our discomfort, oak pollen instead is what bothers us the most. Oaks and pines flower at the same time, but oak pollen is invisible. Pine pollen is so obvious that it receives the brunt of the blame.

Celebrate spring and appreciate the romance of trees. If it wasn’t for pollen, they’d quickly disappear.


Retired from the N.C. Community College System, Linville is a contributing writer for the N.C. Folklife Institute and conducts programs on Southern food, history and culture. He can be reached at