Not only are many of us overwhelmed by sensing pollen in the air this time of year, but it’s also all over the place! There seems to be a layer of yellow pollen caked onto everything as soon as we step out the door. Is all of this pollen coming from the same plant? Why am I just noticing it right now? What even is pollen?!
We often credit pollinators for moving pollen, but there is another source of transportation for plants that don’t have bright, beautiful flowers to attract other animals: wind! Wind helps move pollen from evergreens, oaks, ragweed and a multitude of different grasses. Because of the uncertainty of leaving the wind to determine whether or not the pollen from a “male” tree will find its way to a “female” tree, trees produce a huge amount of pollen to increase the chances of creating new seeds. Most plants will produce much more pollen than necessary to ensure successful fertilization of another plant. One corn plant can produce up to 5 million pollen grains, but one ear of corn only has a few hundred seeds! All the pollen we see covering the ground are unsuccessful pollen particles that didn’t make to another tree or grass.
Check out the video below of what happens when a digger bumps into a pine tree during pollen season!
Just like flowers, trees have specific time slots throughout the Spring when they bloom and in turn create pollen. Unlike flowers, these cyclical blooms are not nearly as noticeable, so it seems to be a surprise when all of a sudden our world becomes trapped in a yellow haze of pollen.
Not all pollen is yellow and, in fact, we can often figure out what plant pollen comes from based on its color and size. The yellow pollen we see right now is coming from pine trees! Surprisingly, after doing a little digging on the internet, this pine pollen is not a significant source of seasonal allergies – just a nuisance and an eyesore. A lot of the pollen that causes seasonal allergies is invisible to the naked eye.
The nature journaling challenge this week is to find sources of pollen outside. You can take a closer look at local trees to see if they are producing pollen, or if they are beyond that stage and starting to seed! Take note of what kind of tree you are looking at and what is going on among the branches besides the leaves. Are there buds, or perhaps the remnants of flowers? Do the pine trees have pine cones on them, or is there something else?
Another activity you can do in your journal is set up your very own flower dissection! Use your nature journal as a place to take notes and sketch what you are seeing. Larger flowers with distinct flower parts will work best. The process is pretty simple once you’ve found a flower that will work, just carefully cut it in half! You can make a scientific illustration of your dissection as well as label the various parts of the flower.
Flowers are completely designed to promote pollination and successfully cross-pollinate with other flowers. See if you can find the parts of the flower during your dissection that are labeled in Clare Walker-Leslie’s illustration from The Nature Connection (also the inspiration for this entire post) pictured below.
Happy journaling and as always if you would like to share your journal entries, or have any questions, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
NRT's dedicated staff are responsible for the content of the NatureTalk blog. Questions? For more information on any blog post, please contact us at any time.