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Answers from UF/IFAS experts as pollen blankets your car and makes you sneeze

Achoo! It’s pollen season. You might sneeze, and you might have to wash your vehicle to remove the green, dust-like coating that comes from plants.

Lynn Barber, the Florida-Friendly Landscaping agent at UF/IFAS Extension Hillsborough County and Alyssa Vinson, the horticulture agent for UF/IFAS Extension Manatee County answers the most common questions they get asked about pollen season, along with their answers. 

Q: Why does there seem to be so much pollen this year?

A: Looking at various weather forecasts, pollen is expected to be higher than normal this year. Pollen rates fluctuate in response to environmental triggers such as temperature and humidity. In warmer years, trees will produce more pollen. Of the three major trees producing much pollen this year, oak, pine and palm are the major culprits. 

The amount of pollen they produce increases with wind and warm weather.

Q: How many people are impacted by pollen, and what are common symptoms of allergic reactions to it?

A: Nationally, about 50 million people are affected by allergies each year.

They could experience a wide variety of symptoms, including watery eyes, itching, coughing, congestion, hives, runny nose, fatigue, asthma attacks and, in severe cases, death.

Q: Do all flowering plants, including trees, produce pollen?

A: Yes, and that is so they can reproduce. Plants pollinated by insects don't have to produce as much pollen because insects distribute pollen efficiently. But plants that do not rely on pollinators produce more pollen, and wind carries pollen seemingly everywhere, including onto your car.

Q: How far can pollen travel?

A: Because pollen is light and dry, it can float through the wind and travel up to several miles.

Q: How can you reduce your chances of exposing yourself to pollen?

A: Dry clothes in a dryer, rather than hanging them outside. This way, you avoid pollen collecting on clothing and being carried indoors. Considering limiting outdoor activities during pollen season (January to June). Stay inside during peak pollen times (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.). Shower after spending time outdoors to remove pollen from hair and skin.

Q: What is the source of pollen in oak trees?

A: Oak trees contain both male and female flowers. Unlike other plants that may have male and female parts in one flower (perfect flowers), oak trees have both male flowers and female flowers. The male flower is where the pollen is produced.

Q: Why do pollen and leaves fall at the same time?

A: Certain trees hold onto their leaves throughout the winter and shed them in the spring to make room on their branches for reproduction and the growth of new foliage for the spring and summer seasons.