Don’t you just love the wind? (NOT!)
I’m talking of that early spring wind we get that dries crops to a crisp and whips the dust into clouds of eye stinging monsters that leave all the damp clothes on the line as gritty as a forgotten oily rag on the side of a dirt road. We have all seen those horror pictures of dust storms devouring a whole city in one mouthful. Then if you are unfortunate enough to suffer from hay fever or even asthma you think of dusty wind with dread. Itchy eyes, running nose and struggling for every breath.
Then add countless pollen grains to the mix just to make it more interesting. Little bundles of DNA with countless shapes, a different one for each plant so there can only be one place with a perfect fit. Each pollen grain travelling on the wind hoping to find a ‘fruitful’ home to grow. The chances are small but some actually make it all the way. Most deciduous trees, conifers and grasses of all types including our grain for flour actually depend on the wind for the next generation. Just imagine; no wind, no bread. The local bakery would sell pies without the pastry or cream buns without the bun. So much of our agricultural economy is reliant on the wind for that vital link of pollination.
We still suffer from the hay fever from wind borne pollen but we see at the same time through our teary eyes the wonderful vibrant reds of bottle brushes and bright and cheery yellows of wattles greeting the warming lengthening days. Then gnash our teeth and snarl; “those blooming wattles and bottle brushes have to come out, I’m not putting up yet another year like this!”
Or do you? As I established, most wind borne pollen is from grasses, conifers and deciduous trees. So where does that leave our much maligned wattles and bottle brushes? Next time you go outside go to the nearest plant in full bloom and touch the stamens. You will be looking for the yellow bits on the anthers on the ends of the fine filaments that make up the colour. You will notice that the yellow stuff (pollen) is sticking to your fingers. Many Australian plants do not rely on wind for pollination but primarily birds. The pollen is sticky so that it can hang on to the birds head or face until the next flower the bird visits. For cross pollination to occur this trip has to be between plants of the same kind, sometimes many kilometres apart and then the pollen is dislodged from the bird onto the pistil so pollination can occur.
So that leaves the dilemma of the hay fever and lots of colourful Australian plants in full bloom at the same time with us thinking that what is the most obvious must be at fault. Rest assured that most allergies are to wind borne pollen most of which is from grasses, without which we would get hungry fairly quick, I’m sure.
Enjoy your garden, the gardens of others and the bush in bloom knowing that your sniffles are most likely not related in any way.
This article first published in the Riverland Weekly © September 10, 2009.