Issue: March 11, 2006

Juniper pollen


Question:

My allergies are really bad this year! What can I do about all this juniper pollen?


Answer:

There is little that you can do about "all" the juniper pollen, but there is something you can do about the pollen that is closest to you.

Much of New Mexico's enchanted landscape consists of pinon-juniper forest. The juniper pollen is natural and cannot be eliminated without destroying much of the native vegetation. In many instances, the severity of pollen allergy reaction can sometimes be reduced by lessening the quantity of pollen to which you are exposed. You can impact the quantity of pollen in your immediate environment.

Some people wear dust masks to filter particulate matter (including pollen) before it enters their nostrils. This helps, especially for people who are active outdoors. Indoor air filters can also help.

It is also possible to reduce the quantity of offending pollen in your immediate environment by not planting pollen-producing junipers (or other plants that produce pollen to which you are allergic) in your landscape. In some cases, that means total avoidance of certain species and genera of plants in your landscape. In the case of juniper, it means that you should plant only female junipers.

Junipers are one of many types of plants that produce separate male and female plants. Such plants are called “dioecious.” (“Monoecious” plants produce both male and female flowers on the same plant.) You can identify the female plants by their production of the berry-like cones. Female juniper plants make the cones that produce seeds; male junipers produce only pollen cones. The pollen cones are small and almost unnoticeable until they turn yellow in the spring (as they produce pollen) and then brown after pollen production. After turning brown, they will fall from the plant and be undetectable. The female berry-like cones persist and identify the female plants (once they have begun production of cones). Wise gardeners will purchase and plant junipers (where not banned by law) that are female plants (with cones) or clones (vegetatively propagated, identical plants) known to be female. By planting only female plants in your landscape, you will at least not increase the concentration of juniper pollen near your personal living environment. There will be juniper pollen from the surrounding forest and from neighbors, but distance is your friend in this circumstance. As the pollen travels in the wind, it is diluted.

People with severe pollen allergies should continue to consult with medical professionals and allergists for medical means of mitigating the problem.




Marisa Y. Thompson, PhD, is the Extension Horticulture Specialist, in the Department of Extension Plant Sciences at the New Mexico State University Los Lunas Agricultural Science Center, email: desertblooms@nmsu.edu, office: 505-865-7340, ext. 113.

Links:

For more gardening information, visit the NMSU Extension Horticulture page at Desert Blooms and the NMSU Horticulture Publications page.

Send gardening questions to Southwest Yard and Garden - Attn: Dr. Marisa Thompson at desertblooms@nmsu.edu, or at the Desert Blooms Facebook.

Please copy your County Extension Agent and indicate your county of residence when you submit your question!