Let’s see if anyone has had this experience over the last couple of weeks. You’re enjoying a leisurely afternoon in the backyard or at your cabin, campsite or favourite ball diamond. You’ve been enjoying a sunny respite from day to day life, but a gust of wind sets you scrambling for a hoodie (bunnyhug if you prefer) and you return outside to see your patio table, beverage glass, bleacher seat suddenly covered in a maise coloured coating. Worse yet, those with seasonal allergies feel like they're under attack.
You wouldn’t be alone, says Helen Shook, research technician with the University of Saskatchewan. Shook supports the Agriculture Department’s help line that assists prairie horticulturalists with all manners of plant based questions. Shook began receiving inquiries about the gold coloured dust permeating Saskatchewan’s wooded areas and placed social media posts about the stuff that went viral.
The culprit is your conifers, says Shook, all of which had a stressful time with drought last year and are busy making up for it.
“It all goes back to last year. Pollen comes off of trees each year, but not in these amounts. Last year, we had drought and an extreme heat event, and that is very stressful to plants. How plants respond to stress is they often kick their reproductive cycle into overdrive.”
So while the flaxen coloured particles are around every spring, this year’s overproduction sent waves of it settling all the outdoor furnishings. The buds for the pollen cones were formed last year, explains Shook, so that spruce, pine and fir trees have generated many more cones to produce the pollen. People will contend with lots more shed cones down the line. In fact, Shook notes that from a distance, stands of conifers may have a brown hue to them - that’s how many cones trees have produced this year.
The good news is that the production cycle won’t last, and that’s a relief especially for allergy sufferers. The recent rains have helped to dampen the airborne particles and the cycle should run its course in a week or two, she says.
“We’re at the mercy of Mother Nature. This spring we’re seeing cooler temperatures, more moisture. That’s definitely going to be good for trees, shrubs and other plants. They’re not deprived of water the way they were last year. It’s hard to predict, but if things continue the way they are now, next year should be close to normal.”
So bring the garden hose to clean off the porch swing one more time - relief is on the way.