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It's About Time - April 2014

Douglas-fir pollen cone
Douglas-fir pollen cone

The romantic song of chickadees cheering up the morning is living proof of the arrival of spring. When the sun comes out after a heavy rain shower, all the birds sing joyfully. There will be more and more vegetable starts in racks outside the local market while the neighborhood gardens are dominated by spring blooming flowers. It is really too early to plant much besides peas and onions. It is not too early to clean up the beds to stay ahead of the weeds.

For the next couple of weeks the windshield of my pickup will be dusted with a yellow powder; is pollen. Incense cedar sheds pollen in January, the dawn redwood in February and Douglas fir in March. All these cone-bearing trees use the “success in numbers” method of pollen dispersal. Their tiny, dry pollen grains weigh practically nothing. Tossed on whirling winds like Ping Pong balls in the ocean, it is only against formidable odds that a pollen grain gets blown into the protective bracts of the seed cones and perform their dance of birds and bees.

Without either birds or bees, the wind-pollinated trees stick to the old reliable strategy: Make enough pollen grains to fill the air. After the pollen are shed, pollen cones descend from Douglas fir trees by the millions. Living under a Douglas fir canopy, I have to scoop them out of my gutters by the bucket load. Studied under a lens, they are stalks of golden brown lilies in extreme miniature.