Monday, March 30, 2015



The morning is sunny but cool and wisps of fog, like gossamer veils, hang from bare oak limbs weave in and around the pine branches. There’s a hint of wood smoke in the air. I sip my coffee to the thrum of wings flying over my head on the way to the bird feeders. Nearby the liquid warble of ok-a-REEEE tells me spring is here with the presence of Red winged Blackbird.

There is another interesting, but not so nice, tell of spring.

I’m in the kitchen making a cake for our desert later tonight when my husband comes in from outside.
“Did you see the smoke in the field across the road?”

I look up and out the kitchen window. I can’t see anything. “I haven’t seen any smoke. Are you sure it wasn’t Tule fog?”

“The winds blowing now and then but I’m sure it was smoke”

“Hmph. I was out earlier but I haven’t seen anything.”
It’s not long before my son, who had just taken his finance into work, walked into the house.

“Mom, I think there’s a fire or something across the road. There’s smoke coming from the woods by the field. Maybe somebody dropped a cigarette over there?”

I’m again at the kitchen window looking out. I don’t see a blasted thing and so I say.  “Mom, it’s there when the wind blows and the smoke comes out of the woods into the field.”

Out go hubs and son to investigate. I step outside but I don’t smell anything burning but the wood smoke from our neighbor’s furnace, a mile away. The same smell I caught when I was watching the birds and drinking my coffee. I’m thinking that my guys are delusional.  They can get that way at times. <grin>

About twenty-five minutes later my husband comes back in and in his best Inspector Clouseau voice announces, “The mystery is sol-ved.”

“No fire, right Inspector?”

“No, but I can show you what it is. Come with me.”

I grab a jacket and follow him out to the edge of the yard facing the field and woods across the road. I still don’t smell or see anything. “I’m here. What am I supposed to be seeing?”

Smoke is actually Red Cedar releasing pollen
“Just be patient and watch the edge of the woods.”
I’m about ready to go back into the house when a gust of wind blows and sure enough, from the edge of the woods is a cloud of smoke.  My nose is flaring but the smell isn’t from something burning. I should qualify that by explaining that my husband calls me the bloodhound because I usually can smell things others can’t.

Bronzed Male Cedar (left) female on the right.
So what is this smoke? 

We have a lot of Eastern Red Cedar trees, one of Missouri's more common trees, otherwise known as Juniperus virginiana. Red Cedar trees aren't true cedar trees, they're juniper trees. When the male cones are mature, usually late February through March in Missouri, they release their dust-like pollen into the air. The pollen is so abundant that small "clouds" of it are released when a gust of wind shakes the branches of a male cedar tree. When the wind rises, great gritty clouds of the pollen drift aloft, making the woods look like they are aflame. After the pollen is shed, the tiny male cones will fall from the trees. The pollinated female cones, on female trees, will continue to grow and develop into this year's crop of cedar "berries." Great news for birds and gin lovers.

Male cedar cones releasing pollen (Missouri forestry pic)
I had heard about this pollen release but had never witnessed it. I was now. I was also smart enough, considering we have several lining the property on this side of the yard, to beat feet for the house. "Let's go. You do not want to be out here as the wind releases this stuff. It can make you very sick." 

Female cedar w/berries (MO forestry)
And it's true, If there are multiple male trees releasing the pollen it is like a cloud of smoke from a fire and the wind can blow it four or five miles (or more) from the trees. At that distance the pollen is more widely diffused, but up close to the cedars it's dense and not all good to breathe in. It can inflame your eyes, throat, and lungs and cause itching and multiple sneezing jags. It makes a person lethargic as the body's histamines try to fight it off. It's nasty stuff.

Fortunately for us the wind was carrying it away from the house, but it's been rather uncomfortable the past week since we have a bumper crop of male cones—makes the cedars look almost bronze. No wonder it looked like wood smoke when the wind blew.

This will all be done soon and then comes the nasty yellow-green pollen of the oaks and walnut trees that coat everything in sight. I have no idea how bad that will be this year. Now, that pollen does make sick—headaches, irritability, and dizzy. I have several packs of face masks and it does help when I want to be outside. We're surrounded by forests of various wind pollinators like oaks, hickory, sycamore, and walnut. 


The good news is it's not a fire and it's usually all done by the end of April.

(Pics not taken by me are from Missouri forestry archive pictures) 


shelly said...

Wow! I just learned something new. Never heard of smoking pollen from cedar trees.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I bet that spreads pollen everywhere. We'll soon be covered in a green-yellow haze.

A Beer For The Shower said...

That's incredible! And as someone who's incredibly allergic to everything (pollen especially) I got sniffly just reading this.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I never heard of that but I would like to see it. I'll probably sneeze a little in the next few weeks, but our family is pretty allergy free so we can enjoy spring.

~Sia McKye~ said...

SHELLY--I knew there was a cedar pollen release but had never actually seen it. It was quite a sight. :-)

ALEX--yep, wind pollen tends to land everywhere. I have a glass top table out on the patio and it's amazing how much pollen lands on that thing. During the latter part of March and throughout April it has to be cleaned at least every other day.

Bryan and Brandon--I'm not incredibly allergic but with the volume the surrounding forest along with wind doesn't leave me unaffected. *here some kleenex.

SUSAN, it's a sight to see. I guess this year it was being in the right time at the right place to actually see it. Our family isn't allegery prone but there is a lot of wind pollen around here so we don't escape unscathed just not as bad as some we know.

cleemckenzie said...

Just thinking about fire or anything that looks like fire make my heart stutter. We live in very fire prone area, and this year we're proner than ever with the drought. Glad your smoke was pollen. Glad the pollen will soon be done.

Natalie Aguirre said...

Glad it wasn't a fire. Never heard of a tree doing this.

Jemi Fraser said...

Wow - never knew any of that! We still have a blanket of snow, so it'll be a while before we see true spring. Have fun with yours :)

Jemi Fraser said...
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dolorah said...

That is so cool. Annoying for someone with allergies, but way cool.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

How freaky. Nature is really amazing.

~Sia McKye~ said...

CLEE--fire is always scary. We're not on drought beaten west coast but being surrounded by forests and the thought of a fire? I've been around a few. No thanks.

Natalie-- me, too. I'd heard of it but had never seen it here in Missouri. I had seen some of this in Austin TX when I lived there. There's is around Dec/Jan. I've lived on the ranch here since '04 and never witnessed it--altho I heard locals talk about it. It's one of those things you have to be in the right place and time.

JEMI--Eww on the blanket of snow. We had a cold front plow through and moisture turned to snow. Got about a half inch on the grass this weekend but it was gone by noon-Yay.

Deborah-- it is cool to see. It doesn't seem to make us sick, just a bit itchy. There is something called cedar fever that some get when the cedars pollenate. Very, very nasty and some end up in the hospital.

Diane--nature truly is amazing! You and your camera would have had a great time. :-)

Jo said...

Alex mentioned that NC will soon be covered with pollen. We used to awaken to our blue car having been turned green. Trouble is, it happens at the time of year when you have the windows open so you end up with the yellow stuff all over the furniture and and counters, etc.. I wasn't allergic thank goodness but I might be these days.

Kat Sheridan said...

I had no idea about this! Cool, but personally scary for me. I'm very allergic, and have asthma. The yellow sticky stuff has sent me to urgent care twice in the past. Icky, nasty stuff that covers the roads and is like glue. Cool to see, but not cool to be in. And we're also prone to brushfires this time of year. Last night I kept smelling smoke, then spotted flames about a block away. Hubs jumped in the car to check it out. Turns out an idiot neighbor has a fire pit on the vacant lot next to him and was burning yard trash. There are laws here about open burning, but in this semi-rural neighborhood, half the people pay no attention. We watched until we were sure he'd put it out. Some people. Le sigh.

Beth said...

Sorry to hear about your son - hope everything is okay.