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The Yellow Wave

April 29, 2015

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Image: Screenshot of pollen forecast from weather.com.

by Julia Byrd

Providing more than just structure, and shelter for local flora and fauna, the oak trees have gifted allergy sufferers this season with the fine yellow dust that incurs the pleasures of a pounding head, itching eyes and running nose. No fine thing is ever given without some displeasure, and so it is with the oak tree:

The oak tree requires wind to pollinate the female flowers. Once pollinated, in three months’ time, the oak tree will be filled with acorns. Of course, when exactly the oak puts on acorns is dependent also on the species, location and amount of rain received within a season.

From there, the acorns are dispersed through various means; whether by well-meaning squirrels or blue jays that either drop the acorn in transit, or store them in the ground.

Acorns are a food source for rodents, birds, and deer, with a large portion of them being consumed or destroyed. Those that do sprout are indeed the product of chance, or a forgetful blue jay. Emerging from the ground with two bright green leaves and a woody stem, with continued water, shelter and nutrients, the sprouts become saplings, then mature trees.

Guadalupe County is home to two ecoregions, the Blackland Prairie and Post Oak Savannah. As the Blackland Prairie region was primarily grassland, there are few large trees that grow here. It was not possible given the nature of the grassland; as fire was a necessary element to maintain the health of system, burning away the extraneous organic matter, and opening up space for new growth. Saplings would not survive such conditions.

Thus the primary areas for large trees like the Blackjack oak are near, or on waterways. However, the Bur and Post Oak require less water than the Blackjack and are found in various areas, thanks in no small part to a century of fire suppression.

Oaks can be found in nearly every eco region of Texas, with specific needs, shapes, colors and sizes unique to that region. Overall, in North America, there are over 80 species of oaks, with a total of 600 species worldwide.

So while you suffer with the joys of allergies, consider the silver lining: That blessed pollen is an essential part of the oak trees life cycle, and you in your suffering, are experiencing a beautiful machination of nature’s ingenuity.

Thank goodness for allergy medicine!

Julia Byrd is the greenhouse manager at Texas Lutheran University and graduated in 2011 with a degree in Music and Biology. In the greenhouse, she focuses on organic alternatives in garden practices. When she is not knee deep in plants, she is usually found creating various things, whether it be a poem or a planter box.