There certainly seems to be a surplus of pollen this year when compared to previous seasons. I have more active allergy symptoms and they are earlier than usual. I first became allergic to airborne pollen in Arizona and literally became “hooked” at the time on over-the-counter nasal spray. When I moved to Georgia to attend graduate school, the problem continued each spring. Finally, when I relocated to Florida during the 1980s it was so bad I embarked on a series of allergy injections. This treatment has helped me weather the seasonal pollen storms since, but this year is worse than usual.
Pollen also interests me professionally because it is the only vegetable protein source for honey bees. It provides them the amino acid building blocks of proteins, which make up more young bees (brood). Beekeepers actively monitor pollen collected by honey bees and feed either supplement or substitute if the insects get into nutritional trouble during the active season.
Most of the pollen that I suffer from this time of year looks like yellow dust. It covers my vehicle, obscures my solar collectors and coats my outside plastic dance floor, but ironically is not collected by honey bees. It’s airborne pollen from oaks and pines, notoriously lacking in protein. Bees prefer the “stickier” pollen from maples, willows, and other plants that is far more nutritious.
Many people ask me if eating honey will help with pollen allergies. The concept is that small amounts of pollen in honey will desensitize one over time, reducing symptoms. This is logical, but there is a caveat. The pollen in the honey must be what people are allergic to. Since a great deal allergenic pollen is windborne and not actively collected by honey bees, the chances of it showing up in honey are well, chancy.
On May 13, 2005, the Macon Telegraph published some bad news for me: “New research suggests global warming could leave Middle Georgians sneezing more as allergy and asthma cases increase. A federal Department of Agriculture study shows that increasing carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas, causes individual weeds to produce more pollen earlier and longer. And a Duke University study indicates that 50 years from now, pine trees are likely to produce twice as much pollen because of rising carbon dioxide levels. ‘Those people who are allergic are going to be in a world of hurt,’ said William Schlesinger, dean of the Nicholas School of Environmental and Earth Sciences at Duke. ‘I see this as a potential rather large health problem.’”
This helps explain some of what I have been noticing this spring. Most recently an AP Press Release by Seth Borenstein provides additional evidence under the title of Global Warming Rushes Timing of Spring. “The capital’s famous cherry trees are primed to burst out in a perfect pink peak about the end of this month. Thirty years ago, the trees usually waited to bloom till around April 5. In central California, the first of the field skipper sachem, a drab little butterfly, was fluttering about on March 12. Just 25 years ago, that creature predictably emerged there anywhere from mid-April to mid-May. And sneezes are coming earlier in Philadelphia. On March 9, when allergist Dr. Donald Dvorin set up his monitor, maple pollen was already heavy in the air. Less than two decades ago, that pollen couldn’t be measured until late April.
“The fingerprints of man-made climate change are evident in seasonal timing changes for thousands of species on Earth, according to dozens of studies and last year’s authoritative report by the Nobel Prize-winning international climate scientists. More than 30 scientists told The Associated Press how global warming is affecting plants and animals at springtime across the country, in nearly every state.”
This shift in blooming dates, called by scientists, phenology, can also affect honey bees in a big way. Take the recent situation with respect to mysterious honey bee disappearance that is being called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). How much can be attributed to subtle changes in the environment that affect blooming times and thus available food supply?
Citizen scientist beekeepers are being recruited by NASA to send in data collected from bee hives to try to get a handle on how things are changing. The information requested can be easily collected by beekeepers. They place hives on scales and simply cataloging their weight change over time. Others interested in phenology shifts can access the World Wide Web to examine the data as it accumulates and is recorded. I will be eagerly looking into predictingt how much and for how long I can expect to be affected by pollen allergy each spring.