That white cottony stuff blowing around in the air is not snow...

But it is impressive! Those fluffy white “parachutes” are the fruit capsule with numerous “hairy” seeds from the Salicaceae family of trees. While they are very visible and frequently blamed for allergy symptoms, the allergy sufferer is most likely reacting to less visible (microscopic size) pollens in the air. These large parachutes will not fit in your nose and are unlikely to land in your eye!

There are 2 major genera of the Salicaceae Family; these are the willows (Salix) and the aspens, cottonwoods and poplars (Populus). The pollen of both is allergenic (elicit allergies), and they share cross-reacting allergenic proteins. In other words, if a person is allergic to one of these trees they are more likely to show allergic reactions to the other trees in the same family and genus.

Willows are pollinated by both insects (entomophilous) and by the wind (anemophilous). Willow trees have male and female flowers on different trees and they bloom primarily from March through April but can extend even into July in the Northwest parts of the U.S. Some willows are more likely to trigger allergies than others. For example, the pussy willow (Salix discolor) while it produces pollen is of NO allergic significance.

Aspen, Poplar and Cottonwood trees are all wind pollinated with pollen release during the spring, typically March to May and beginning before the willows. The pollen is unscented and not “sticky.” No nectar is produced, so insects are not interested. There are both male and female flowers on separate trees. They produce much more pollen than willows that can blow in the wind for great distances. Some “ornamental poplars” are sterile hybrids that do not produce pollen and therefore ideal for individuals with allergies.

Under the microscope these pollen grains are spherical in shape with mild elongation and usually 3 grooves. (They are groovy!)

If you are concerned about tree pollen allergy, at Family Allergy Asthma & Sinus Care, allergy skin testing can identify which specific trees you are allergic too. There is no need to guess!