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Ah, Wimberley! Ah Choo! --- Ways to Cope with Mountain Cedar Pollen in the Central Texas Hill Country and Recent Research Findings
The male cedar releases clouds of golden pollen.
Wimberley's engaging landscape of hills, rocks, and yes, Cedar, brings a unique set of challenges for the allergy-prone. Stronger pollen allergens may be the result of increasing pollution, "The Revenge of the Mountain Cedars."
It says much about Wimberley that most of those who live here usually don't even think about moving away, despite the fact that every single winter the dreaded cedar fever drifts into the lives of Wimberleyites on golden clouds of pollen.

It's possible that no one is truly immune to this scourge forever. Even people who have never had allergies may awake one to day to find themselves suddenly reacting to this pollen after years of oblivious coexistence with the mountain cedar, also known as juniper trees (Juniperus ashei).

Dry, windy days are more likely to have increased amounts of pollen in the air than cool, damp, rainy days when most pollen is washed to the ground. With increasing numbers of these days accompanying the Hill Country drought, many people experience even more allergenic misery, despite the occasional relief from rare, welcome rain.

Some people are instantly allergic to the pollen, but others may live in the midst of cedar country with nary a reaction until a decade or two later... Bam! There they come...those itchy, watery eyes. runny nose, and sneezes, sneezes, sneezes. It's not really a fever, but can certainly be accompanied by a general feeling of flu-like malaise.

The female cedar produces berries, a winter bounty for hungry birds.
The incidence of cedar fever, or cedar pollinosis, is increasing. Research at The University of Texas Medical Branch is disclosing that a new, stronger class of cedar pollen allergens is emerging, apparently triggered by environmental pollution. Once again, it seems we have only ourselves to blame. This interesting research is showing that certain pollutants increase stress on the plants, resulting in pollen that enhances the allergic response in people.

The robust and sturdy cedar tree is a predominant evergreen in Texas, especially in the Hill Country. It can be beautiful or annoying, depending upon your point of view, and both views can be supported by fact. Old-growth cedar appears as gorgeous, large trees that provided shade, food and wildlife habitat in a region that can become devoid of such natural benefits during one of our notorious Texas droughts. Cedar is more adaptable than most trees and will often survive powerful Texas windstorms while oak trees fall in droves. A grove of old-growth cedar is a treasure worth preserving.

Some scrubbier types of cedar sprang up as a result of cattle overgrazing. Cattle ate everything in sight except the prickly non-tasty cedar plants, and the resulting growth is young and vigorous, dense, multi-trunked, and shallow rooted. This makes it difficult for remaining grasses to compete for water, especially if they are still being grazed and the soils are impoverished. Once again, we...at any rate, some ranchers...have been our own worst enemies.

However, even smaller cedar trees provide valuable habitat in an ever-shrinking environment for stressed wildlife. Years of record winter drought conditions in Wimberley and the Hill Country make the presence of the berries produced by the Ash Juniper more highly valued than ever by a remarkable variety of birds. The most spectacular of these is the Cedar Waxwing, who appears with flock to enjoy a communal buffet of berries. Birdwatchers will have noticed a significant decrease in the number of these beautiful little annual visitors.

You have to consider this cedar plant a little ornery, however. Although it's not as hostile as cacti when handled, it's mighty prickly. And whereas most trees pollinate in the spring, cedar trees contrarily pollinate in the winter. The silver lining to that timing is that December through February are usually the months when it's more pleasant to stay inside anyway, one way to help avoid the pollen. Fortunately, outdoor exercise when the pollen is lowest during late afternoon or evening can still be incorporated to stay healthy and avoid cabin fever.

Helpful tips for getting through the season:
  • Keep doors and windows closed, especially on breezy days.
  • Change HVAC filters often. You may want to use a HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filter to help filtrate the pollen even more.
  • Use a damp cloth to clear the golden dust away and vacuum the pesky stuff from carpets.
  • Use a sinus rinse (carefully following instructions) to clear nose and passages of the pesky particles and to help congestion. This can be immensely effective and only requires a little plastic bottle, salt water, and a minute or two to remove pollen from your passages and allow free breathing again. Ahhh....
  • Take a shower and change after being outdoors for a long period of time to help keep the pollen away from your sensitive nose.
  • If you're just walking in from outside and can't manage a shower, washing only your face may help significantly, removing pollen that may continue to be inhaled.
  • Keep an eye on the pollen count and plan around it, if possible.
If you're miserable, an antihistamine can help. Interestingly, studies are showing that some over the counter drugs outperform the more expensive prescription drugs in giving effective relief to these allergy symptoms.

Keeping the humidity at a healthy level inside your home or office can make a big difference in both your level of comfort and resistance to secondary infections that can occur when sinuses are stuffed and tissues swollen. Simply using a humidifier while you sleep can sometimes make the difference between a miserable winter throat or ear infection and a refreshing night of sleep.

There is hope now that some allergies can be overcome over time with applications of small doses of the offending allergen. Although no silver bullet for cedar fever has yet been discovered, there may be hope for peaceful coexistence with nature in the near future.

Check out the useful references below. Then, sit back and enjoy watching the birds feast on whatever berries made it this year ...one way to actually enjoy this hardy survivor.




MORE INFORMATION:

Revenge of the Mountain Cedars

Drought Monitor - Keep tabs on this influence on Cedar

Check out News8's Pollen Count
(Or look outside...cedar pollen isn't shy. If you see clouds of yellow dust, looking something like puffs of smoke rising, you know it's a heavy pollen day.)



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