Newswise — Marvin Pritts, a horticulture professor at Cornell University, explains the science behind allergies and why it isn’t the showy flowers that are the culprit, but rather the inconspicuous flowers that few people even notice.


Pritts says: 

“It is the time of the year when sensitive individuals begin to express allergy symptoms from their reaction to plant pollen. Approximately 10 percent of the population reacts significantly and as many as 30 percent exhibit some symptoms.

“Pollen is the male component of a plant’s sexual reproductive process. The pollen’s genetic material combines with an egg in the flower to produce a seed. Pollen moves from one flower to another through pollinators or wind. Humans react to the proteins on the surface of pollen grains when they breathe them in.

“Typically trees are the first plants to shed pollen in spring. They don’t have to grow to become reproductive, so most take care of reproduction first thing when the weather warms. Maples, oaks and pines produce copious amounts of pollen in our area, followed by beech, birch, hickory, ash and walnuts. Shortly after, perennial grasses begin flowering. They have to grow somewhat to become reproductive, but already have a well-established root system from which to support their flowers. Lastly come the annual plants that flower in late summer like ragweed, lamb’s quarters and pigweed that have to germinate and grow to a mature size before becoming reproductive and shedding pollen.

“People often associate seasonal allergies with a specific flower that they see in bloom during that time. In most cases, individuals are not exposed to the pollen from showy flowers. Such flowers are attractive to insects so their pollen is sticky and is not carried by the wind. So, when allergies begin to rise when the goldenrod flowers, it is not the goldenrod pollen causing the allergic reaction but rather the ragweed with its inconspicuous flowers shedding wind-borne pollen at the same time.

“While rain provides temporary relief, it promotes weed seed germination and plant growth and may contribute to higher levels of pollen later in the season.”

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