A Love/Hate Thing for Spring

This is supposed to be my favorite time of year. Things are blooming, memories of winter are fading, waterfalls are melting, and the trees are turning green. It's that last one that always gets me... I've always considered it to be a magical moment when the trees change in spring. Not the gradual show of colors we see in the fall, spring brings an abrupt explosion of color. Not only are the greens striking and vivid after months of winter grey, but the white and pink blossoms on the apple and cherry trees are a crowning touch. I've been anxiously eyeing the tall maple tree (Acer rubrum) in my front yard (which housed a giant lady beetle colony last year) waiting for it to sprout, as well.

Oh, that awful tree. Don't get me wrong, I can take the bugs and the leaf litter. It's these guys that get me:



Of course, these little grains are just trying to do what they do best... opportunistically land on an egg, fertilize it, and grow into a seed. Acer rubrum seeds are a favorite, too... remember those "helicopter seeds" we used to toss around as children? It just wouldn't be summer without them.


Flowers and seeds.

Unfortunately, my immune system doesn't realize the pollen is just trying to make helicopter seeds. The real confused culprits within the system are the mast cells. They make up some of the tissue in our bodies, particularly in areas which lead in and out, such as the nose and mouth. Normally, they are quite useful. They are thought to play a similar defensive role as white blood cells, but do so in tissues rather than the bloodstream. (Plenty of mast cells are found adjacent to the bloodstream as well.)


When some foreign substance (like the Acer pollen) enters the tissue, antibodies called immunoglobulin-E are produced. These are sort of like tags which identify the dangerous substance. The next time the substance comes around, the antibodies attach themselves to the protective mast cells, which respond by releasing histamines and other compounds. These histamines raise the alarm... in other words, cause sneezing, coughing, sniffling, and general misery.

This would seem more reasonable if the pollen were actually dangerous. I suppose I could imagine some science-fiction scenario, where a disease-causing parasite developed a symbiotic relationship with the maple--Tales of the Killer Syrup--but I doubt it would be a best seller. We probably don't need to worry about toxic maple stories, in the news, or in the B-movie section at the video store. The worst that arises from the pollen is the miserable histamine reaction*.

Spring... trees in bloom... it's definitely a love/hate thing.

Note (*): I know, it can be treated with medications now. In fact, I'm going to buy some right now. I have a few more updates, general announcements and that sort of thing, to get to before the week ends, but I had to vent about the allergies first. Check back for less bitter content, soon.

Image notes: maple pollen via the Plant Tissue Autofluorescence Gallery, mast cells via the VCU Department of pathology. Maple flowers by the author.

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Yes, there are treatments, but good luck with them. I have taken Claritin, Zyrtec, Tavist, etc. etc. and nothing stopped my runny nose and cough. Now I'm doing allergy shots. Both the prescription and over the counter meds have been a big disappointment. For some reason, blocking those histamine reactions is a lot tougher in reality than it seems on the commercials.

By Sandra in Dallas (not verified) on 23 Mar 2007 #permalink

The problem isn't really the pollen, it's the lack of female trees. See the book "Allergy Free Gardening" for a great summary of the problem. Nurseries sell male trees and plants since they produce less "waste" than female plants, and people don't like cleaning up after them. The price we pay for this "neatness" is the over-abundance of pollen in the air. With enough female plants, most of the pollen would be taken up by the female plants and not be a problem for our allergies...

Pretty stupid, huh?

Sandra, I've discovered that claritin and similar treatments don't really work all that well, too.

Donna, you may have something there... although the female maples are the fun ones. I'd think the only way to escape the allergies, though, would be to have nothing but female trees. Even if you have a good balance, with plenty of females to use the pollen, the male still pollinates by dispersion on the wind... the pollen will get everywhere, just to get somewhere.

Yes, I know, way too late on this thread, but after all the cave adventures you wen through lately, maybe you could immerse yourself in "A thing for the spring" once again?..Just a thought,Kim

By kim boone (not verified) on 29 Dec 2007 #permalink

Don't worry about the lateness... I have a problem with that myself ;)

As for "a thing for spring"... it's an excellent suggestion, but since it is winter now, I'm about ready for the real thing. Ideally, I'd like to go here or here, even though we usually go here.... and to be honest, I'd be willing to settle for here, because it's close, cheap, and they have private baths. ;)

Wow! Pagosa springs looks amazing! Once I went to a similar hot-spring-reeking-of-rotten-eggs-bath/pool in Slowakia.
You're right, it stinks. But after a few minutes in that nice warm bubbly bath, I was quite forgiving about that. (Also, my nasal cavities collapsed so I couldn't smell anything anymore :)
Have a great time! (Oops, darn! shouldn't have mentioned the T-word.)
I'll settle with: Enjoy yourself, your family and your surroundings as best you can.
Hope you catch a good wave, Kim

By kim boone (not verified) on 13 Jan 2008 #permalink