BY LEAH ZERBE
It’s a sketchy time to be sneezing in public.
With COVID-19 cases climbing and local ICU units filling up once again, every sniffle brings a glance of worry.
What complicates the issue is that it’s also primetime misery season for anyone allergic to ragweed — and the pollen these days is jacked up like a bodybuilder on hardcore steroids.
It’s not just in your head. If you’re one of the 15% of Americans allergic to ragweed, it’s getting worse.
The warmer temperatures and bulging carbon dioxide levels have turned this traditional garden nuisance into a pollen-manufacturing machine.
And this doesn’t just lead to your raging runny nose and itchy eyes — it’s spurring more trips to the doctor, more asthma attacks and less productivity at school and work.
Today, a single ragweed plant can produce up to a billion pollen grains in one season, and these grains can be carried long distances by the wind.
In fact, a study published in February in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America found North America is experiencing a 21% increase in pollen concentrations and a 20-day lengthening of pollen seasons. This increase coincides with growing man-made greenhouse gas emissions.
“Our results reveal that anthropogenic climate change has already exacerbated pollen seasons in the past three decades with attendant deleterious effects on respiratory health,” the authors wrote.
In essence, the C02 we release from burning fossil fuels creates an invisible, mini-greenhouse for every ragweed plant in your neighborhood.
It’s not goldenrod
Sadly, goldenrod, an amazing, late-blooming native plant, is often confused with ragweed and blamed for allergies that crop up in late summer and fall. That’s a shame, because it’s a crucial nectar source for migrating monarchs and more than 100 other species of moths and butterflies.
Both plants offer up a golden bloom this time of year, but it’s ragweed’s small, lightweight pollen size that makes it so easily dispersed.
Goldenrod, on the other hand, offers up large, heavy pollen grains that readily attach to insects’ bodies. It’s just not suitable for being super airborne like ragweed is.
There are many native types of goldenrod, and one for every sun and soil moisture level in your yard. So instead of being scared of this late blooming plant, take a deep breath, know it isn’t causing your allergies, and add it to your conservation garden.
Let’s meet up
Growing native plants is an act of kindness for your community. I’m giving an Intro to Native Plants outdoor talk at Bubeck Park in Schuylkill Haven from noon to 2 p.m. Sept. 12, as part of the Healthy Schuylkill Communities series, and hope to see you there!
Learn all about native plants, including which specific plants we need to grow as host plants for moths and caterpillars, and how planting the right plants can transform the health of our birds, bees, butterflies … and even us! The presentation includes a fun, interactive activity. This is a great all-ages presentation. Grab your lawn chair, pack a snack and I’ll see you there.
Reserve your spot by visiting https://givebutter.com/healthyschuylkillcommunities or by calling Schuylkill County’s VISION at 570-622-6097.
Contact the writer: firstname.lastname@example.org
Caitlin Heaney West is the content editor for Access NEPA and oversees the Early Access blog in addition to working as a copy editor and staff writer for The Times-Tribune. An award-winning journalist, she is a summa cum laude graduate of Shippensburg University and also earned a master’s degree from Marywood University. Caitlin joined the Times-Shamrock family in 2009 and lives in Scranton. Contact: email@example.com; 570-348-9100 x5107; or @cheaneywest