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Garden Guru: Showy autumn flowers wrongly blamed for allergies

By John Porter
John Porter
Bees spread the pollen for goldenrod, which is often blamed for allergies.
John Porter
The often overlooked ragweed is the culprit for the inflamed sinuses of humans.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It is rather unfortunate, and perhaps ironic, that this garden guru has a plant pollen allergy. Every spring and fall, I find myself stuffy, tired, cloudy and, more often than not, suffering from an allergy-onset sinus infection.Plants that rely on the wind for pollination are the culprit. Rather than relying on directed pollination with bees and other pollinators, wind-pollinated plants will release millions of pollen granules into the air in hopes of spreading around their genetics. In the spring, trees are the culprit. They release clouds of pollen to ensure pollination of female flowers for miles around. The results for humans are yellow-green cars and inflamed sinuses.Giving credit where credit is dueIn the fall, though, the culprits may not be as easily seen. It is easy for some to blame the showier fall flowers, such as goldenrod and the many asters that bloom. In truth, though, the main culprit for autumnal allergies is ragweed -- goldenrod gets a bum rap.But ragweed is not as noticeable; it is inconspicuous, green, and basically just plain ugly. It is just coincidence that when the ragweed allergies start up, our eyes are diverted to the beautiful, showy goldenrod along the country roads and in fields.If you think for a minute, it makes sense that ragweed is the culprit and not goldenrod. Goldenrod has big, showy yellow flowers that more or less are an advertisement for any pollinator around. It is strictly a bee-pollinated species; its pollination strategy revolves around the fact that its pollen is big, clunky, and sticky. It must have something (a bee) move pollen from place to place.
Ragweed, on the other hand, produces lots of small, fine pollen that easily floats on the air, so it doesn't need to be pretty to draw attention to itself.The facts on ragweedThe U.S. has 17 species of ragweed, which are most abundant in the East and Midwest; however, the plant menace can be found all over the country. It is a member of the Aster family, along with the goldenrods and asters that bloom this time of year.I find another bit of irony in that ragweed belongs to the genus Ambrosia, because in no shape, way or form does this devilish plant remind me of the "nectar of the gods." Goldenrod belongs to the genus Solidago, which means "to make whole," a likely nod to the fact that many cultures consider it medicinal.One ragweed plant, on average, can release up to ONE BILLION pollen grains during the season. And as a testimony to the "flight capability" of the pollen, it has been found up to 400 miles out to sea and two miles up in the atmosphere. There's no escaping the rages of ragweed. The best thing you can do is remove it from your property when you spot it, and encourage your neighbors to do likewise.Of course, because the ragweed pollen can travel great distances, removing the immediate plants will not solve the problems of an allergy sufferer. To end suffering, over-the-counter medications or medical treatment may be possible.I have come to rely on sinus rinsing. I know, to the uninitiated it sounds gross, but it really does help. The most successful treatment, though, would be to see an allergy specialist and receive immunotherapy to build tolerance to the potent pollen.
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