It’s loblolly pine tree pollen season in the Carolinas. Can you hear the sneezing and hacking? Of course, there are other pollens floating about right now, but none as visible and disgusting as that of the loblolly pine.
If a runny nose and eyes were the only problem with pine pollen, I could live with it. Unfortunately, once the yellow powder stops bursting from the cones, it eventually leads to more pine trees, which produce monster-sized pine cones. The only good thing about these huge pine cones is they’re great for decorating around the house from Thanksgiving through December. Otherwise, they present a risk for concussion if one drops on your head and litter the yard.
These particular pines are native to the South, which makes sense because they’re drought resistant. The only moisture we can depend on down here is the relentless humidity and the rain ushered in by tornadoes and hurricanes. These trees are everywhere down here. And I mean everywhere. They line the highways, fill the wooded areas, dot the golf courses, and endanger homes and the people in them. We cut down 13 of them in the first house we bought in Columbia. They were so tall and close to the house that I was petrified they’d fall over on our house in a storm and kill us. Before we cut them down, I used to secretly wish the one by our driveway would fall on our aging wood-paneled station wagon so I could upgrade to a minivan. No such luck.
Before moving down here, I’d never seen such odd looking pine trees. They’re extremely thin and tall with green growth on only about the top third of the trunk, if that much. They aren’t good for climbing, hiding behind, or even sitting under. It’s not just the pine cones that prevent us from sprawling out under them with a book. It’s because the huge pile of prickly pine needles would feel like a bed of nails and the fire ants that burrow there (just as they do everywhere else down here).
The yellow pollen keeps us from opening the windows in our homes, eating outdoors, and hanging laundry on the line (yes, I have a clothesline) during what most of us consider the balmiest few weeks of the year. We have to take our shoes off before coming in the house, sweep the doorstep daily, and carry extra Kleenex with us everywhere we go.
There is, however, one upside to loblolly pine pollen season: wisteria is in bloom. The scent of wisteria in the spring is intoxicating. And knowing that wisteria is a predatory species with a particular fondness for pine gives me hope that maybe one day it will become as invasive as kudzu and help control the population of the loblolly pine. We can replace them with majestic, fragrant magnolia trees.