The scourge of the Texas Hill Country ~ Ashe juniper releasing pollen

Overwhelmed in kindergarten, we wouldn’t have dared to jeer at anyone. In first grade, we began forging alliances, sending our boldest competitors into the fray and encouraging them from the sidelines. By second grade, we were ready to join in the fun, taunting even fifth and sixth-graders with our generations-old insults:

So’s your old man!
Your mother wears combat boots!
Liar, liar, pants on fire!

In time, developing vocabularies and an increasing appreciation for word play moved us toward more complex insults:

When they were giving out brains, you thought they said canes, and said, “I don’t need one!”

As our ability to lob or fend off good verbal assaults developed, we became unknowing participants in a tradition reaching back to Shakespeare and beyond: a tradition maintained by sharp-tongued repartee artists closer to our time.

“He has no enemies, but is intensely disliked by his friends.” (Oscar Wilde)
“He has all the characteristics of a dog except loyalty.” (Sam Houston)
“His mother should have thrown him away and kept the stork.” (Mae West)
“I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn’t it.” (Groucho Marx)

When Lady Astor remarked to Winston Churchill, “If you were my husband, I’d poison your tea,” Churchill famously replied, “And if you were my wife, I’d drink it.” Churchill spared no one, as George Bernard Shaw learned after telegraphing Churchill to say, “I am enclosing two tickets to the first night of my new play. Bring a friend – if you have one.” Completely unfazed, Churchill sent a message of his own. “Cannot possibly attend first night. Will attend second – if there is one.”

Despite being attributed to Dorothy Parker, one of most trenchant and oft-quoted bits of snark in recent history actually was embroidered on a sitting room pillow belonging to Alice Roosevelt Longworth: “If you can’t say something good about someone, sit right here by me.”

No group sat next to Longworth more willingly than many of our best-known novelists and poets. T.S. Eliot said of Henry James, “[He] has a mind – a sensibility -so fine that no mere idea could ever penetrate it.” Robert Browning endured Gerard Manley Hopkins’s assertion that, “[Browning’s] verse is the beads without the string,” while Austenites no doubt recall Mark Twain’s observation that “Jane Austen’s books…are absent from this library. Just that one omission alone would make a fairly good library out of a library that hadn’t a book in it.”

Even William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway felt it necessary to trade insults. Faulker once observed that Hemingway “has no courage, has never crawled out on a limb. He has never been known to use a word that might cause the reader to check with a dictionary to see if it is properly used.”

Chafed by the criticism, Hemingway responded, “I use the oldest words in the English language. People think I’m an ignorant bastard who doesn’t know the ten-dollar words. I know the ten-dollar words. There are older and better words which, if you arrange then in the proper combination, you make it stick.”

Given today’s general loss of vocabulary, the promotion of crude and vulgar language by celebrities, and the tendency of social media postings to resemble grade-school level banter, artful insults are hard to find. Nature, on the other hand, continues to perfect the form. Each spring she offers up wordless taunts in a form difficult to counter: the impertinence called pollen.

In Texas, spring pollen season begins early. By December or January, the tree variously called mountain cedar, post cedar, or, more properly, Ashe juniper begins to develop tiny, amber-colored male cones. When conditions are right, pollen-covered cones blanket the trees, drooping the limbs with their weight and making the hills glow an unearthly orange.

Ashe juniper cones ~ photo by Bob Harms, University of Texas

As the wind rises, great clouds of pollen are released to drift across a broad swath of Texas, as far south as the Rio Grande and as far east as Beaumont. If conditions are right, you can hear the sound of the trees releasing their burden into the wind.

Newcomers to Texas can be forgiven their assumption that references to cedars “popping” are hyperbole, or perhaps a folksy figure of speech. In fact, the ‘pop’ of the cones can be audible, and the ‘cedar smoke’ that results — clouds of a particularly nasty pollen — are nothing to sneeze at, even though multitudes do sneeze because of the ghastly allergy called ‘cedar fever.’ Most don’t develop a true fever at all, but that’s small comfort given the severity of other symptoms: itchy eyes, a runny nose, sneezing and wheezing, and major sinus infections.

Rusty Hierholzer, Kerr County sheriff, captured a release of the trouble-making pollen on video.

Mountain cedar, aka Ashe juniper ( Juniperus ashei) releasing pollen

In a passionate and humorous Texas Monthly harangue on all things cedar, Joe Patoski pondered the phenomenon:

I hate cedar. Especially this time of year, when central Texas cedars—one of the most prolifically pollinating plants in North America—dramatically release copious airborne pollens in explosive puffs of orange-red smoke whenever cold winds blow from the north. Like gnarly little fishhooks, the pollens invade my nostrils and sinuses. Before long I’m sniffling and vacant, sick and tired. I hate cedar fever.

As do we all. Some barricade themselves in their homes. Others buy stock in antihistamine manufacturers. The writer J.Frank Dobie famously left Austin every year when the pollen began to fly. As his biographer, Steven L. Davis, recalls:

Dobie suffered terribly from Cedar Fever, the winter allergy outbreak that afflicts many Austinites. For years he had made himself scarce during pollen’s peak months [and] had long arranged his university schedule so he could teach his “Life and Literature of the Southwest” course in the spring, after the pollen had died down.

Given its ability to annoy humans, as well as its disputed reputation for hogging water, it might seem tempting to pursue on a state-wide basis the course taken by some individual landowners: eradication.

But Ashe juniper is native, and an important part of the regional ecosystem. The tree provides shelter for a variety of wildlife, and nesting materials for  the endangered golden-cheeked warbler. Deer, raccoons, gray foxes, coyotes, and jackrabbits consume the berry-like cones, particularly when other forages are limited or of poor quality.

Ashe juniper berries

American robins and cedar waxwings, common winter residents in central Texas, feed on the berries as well, and the trees help to limit soil erosion on steep canyon slopes and in areas where vegetation is sparse. 

Host to the Juniper hairstreak, a green-winged butterfly that feasts on its leaves and nectars on native agarita, ‘mountain cedar’ also provides a rich environment for the native plants that thrive in its mulch.

Texas juniper hairstreak (Callophrys gryneus castalis) nectaring on milkweed

As February gives way to March, the amount of cedar pollen decreases, even as oak and pine pollen increase. Elm, ash, and willow already have begun to add to the mix and soon, as spring unfolds across the country, the sneezing and grumpiness will commence in locations as widely separated as South Carolina and Oregon. But if the thin, greenish-yellow veils covering patio tables, mailboxes, sidewalks, and cars are as insulting as they are inevitable, they bring a certain beauty as well: the aesthetic appeal of pollen swirls on water, and the equally pleasing swirl of a new season into our lives.

Oak pollen abstraction


Comments always are welcome.
Photos can be enlarged by clicking on the image.

151 thoughts on “Ashe-Choo!

    1. It would be good to have a sarcasm font, wouldn’t it? I’m glad you enjoyed the post. If we can’t rid ourselves of the stuff, at least we can find semi-creative ways to respond to it — including a little humor from time to time.

    1. It’s only been in the past few years that I’ve noticed the pollens are differently colored. Oak tends to be yellowish, while pine seems more green. The colors probably are more noticeable because the source is nearer, and more of it piles up, instead of blowing through.

    2. Yes, same here; but its Red Pine instead. Will need to pay more attention to the few Juniper(Eastern Red Cedars) we have here this year. Although, now that I think about it, they’re all over on the leeward edge of the yard so I’d be much less likely to ever see the pollen fall when it happened:/

  1. Somehow I am blessed not to have pollen allergies, but I do mourn the loss of snark that is born of a surplus of intelligence and vocabulary. Having been raised on the wit of the Algonquin table, my standards for snark are high. Alas, we have descended to an age where your first-grade examples would impress many as penultimate wit. Sad.

    1. Lucky you, re: the allergies. I’m not as affected as some, but I do know when the cedar pollen’s in town. One of my favorite observations about wit happens to have come from Dorothy Parker, one of the group Edna Ferber called ‘the poison squad.’ “There’s a hell of a distance between wise-cracking and wit,” Parker said. “Wit has truth in it; wise-cracking is simply calisthenics with words.” So good.

      1. She has an excellent point. Wisecracking is often mean-hearted and I don’t like to engage in that. Snark is wisecracking. And the “I didn’t know it was loaded” defense doesn’t fly. The snarky speaker knew it was loaded. That’s why he or she said it. True wit involves one using ALL of one’s wits.

        1. Exactly. That’s why so much so-called comedy today isn’t funny. The undertones of nastiness and judgmentalism are all too obvious, and the cheap and easy shots all too frequent.

  2. Atishoo! Bit too early for proper pollen season here, but soon I’ll be sneezing too. And the sneezing goes on into the autumn because, when one source shuts down, another starts, until the grasses really go all out to trap the sufferers in late autumn.

    I love clever repartee, although it could perhaps be classed with insults if you feel particularly offended.

    1. It’s the same here. In autumn, the ragweed and other such grasses can wreak havoc. It’s such a shame that people confuse goldenrod and ragweed; poor goldenrod never hurt a soul, and yet I know people who destroy it on sight.

      I’ve wondered occasionally whether childhood taunting didn’t innoculate us against adult offense-taking in the same way that running barefoot in the dirt, eating unwashed berries or fruit, and sharing food and utensils with friends built up our physical immune systems. I was teased mercilessly as a “four-eyes” when I got glasses in third grade, and a plump little friend had to put up with “fatty, fatty, two by four, can’t get through the bathroom door.” She slimmed down, I got contacts, I don’t think either of us carries scars. We didn’t like it, but we learned to cope — often by simply ignoring it all.

  3. The things I learn from my blogging friends. Holy cats, that is some pollen, as we might say in Maine. Speaking of Maine…no pollen this time of year. Maybe Texans should consider taking a Maine vacation in either January of February. Plus, there is always March, when the mud runs deep and the potholes are so big they could swallow a car. Seriously, though, I have never seen pollen that intense. I like the way you temper the misery by noting the benefits of the ashe juniper to the ecosystem. Finally, what a beautiful butterfly.

    1. Honestly? Given a choice between pollen and snow, I’ll stick with the pollen. Now, mud? That holds some attraction, and some good memories. Before everything got paved over, the mud that resulted from our Iowa spring thaws was high quality stuff. One of my mother’s favorite memories was of the year the Harlem Globetrotters were coming to her little town to play an exhibition game (1932, as I recall), and they couldn’t make it through the mud in their Model A. Good times!

      Despite it all, the Ashe juniper is a beautiful tree, and a useful one, too. Cedar fence posts may not last forever, but it will seem like it.

    1. As long as they well-aimed and not accidental, I’m all for it! I’m so glad you enjoyed the post. It surely won’t be long now until you’ll have some spring overspreading your mountains, too.

  4. I love how you made me laugh in the first part of your post then fascinated me in the second half about the Ashe juniper that I never knew about. I’m allergic to just about everything in the world so I won’t be coming to Texas this time of the year.

    1. One reason we enjoy sharp, cold weather here is that the combination of cold and wind can empty the trees of their pollen pretty quickly. The times I’ve heard the trees popping have been in cold weather. It’s as though they’re saying, “OK — let’s get this over with.”

      I seem to have grown out of most of my allergies. When I was a kid, I was allergic to corn pollen and ragweed: a bad combination for someone growing up in Iowa. Eventually, I had to stop detasseling corn and find another job. Nothing paid as well as the field work, but I don’t remember there being over-the-counter drugs that worked as well as what we have today.

  5. Wow, my husband would be in real trouble if he went near that juniper at the wrong time! Glad we don’t have any of those around. The bit about insults made me giggle, especially the Oscar Wilde and Mae West quotes. Sparring with insults is a good old tradition in Scotland (‘flyting’) and it was an essential skill at school…and in the pub!

    1. I never had heard of ‘flyting’ — not once. When I looked it up, I found this piece in Atlas Obscura, and it confirmed something I’d already thought: the practice called ‘playing the dozens’ in the streets of New York was quite similar to what we did in school, and what you did in your culture, too.

      Certain of our presidential candidates have been trading barbs, but they just can’t measure up to what’s been going on in school yards, streets, and taverns — forever!

      1. LOL, no, I don’t think they would measure up – I doubt they’d rise to the level of wit that’s necessary!

  6. Watched the video, a minute/13 seconds – is that the end of it or does the tree continue for a while longer?
    Love the insults. A friend and I in high school got a kick out of saying to insulters, “People who dwell in crystallized domiciles, should not cast geological objects.” and to really get another kid confused, “You appear to be educated far beyond your intelligence.” (That was usually always good for a blank stare in return). lol

    1. No, that’s the full show for that one tree. Now, multiply that tree by thousands, or perhaps even hundreds of thousands. It’s quite a show. There are days that the pollen’s so thick it really does look like a smoky haze hanging over the hills. It’s amazing.

      I laughed at those sayings you and your friend came up with. They’re quite clever, and I can well imagine a blank stare in response to that second one. If you can pull off saying something like that with a straight face, it’s even better. I’ll bet you get a kick out of choosing the humor for your blog, too.

      1. You can see right through me, Linda – I love the humor. Smitty had a dry sense of humor that did rub off on me, but I’m not as quick on the comebacks as he was. haha, now you’ve got me smilin’!!

  7. At first I could not see the connection between school ground insults, Shakespeare. other celebrity insults and ash-choo, but you segued right into cedar fever. I learned so much about the effects of and benefits of the tree. Here on the coast my live oaks are shedding and will soon produce “tassel” and then the green dusting on everything. But I am ready for spring! Good post!

    1. That’s me, segueing all over the place. I don’t know if it’s bane or blessing that I see such odd connections sometimes, but I sure have fun with them.

      Our oaks started really shedding last week. The wind came up, and the leaves came down. There are tassels on some of the cypress trees now, and a few of the willows. I took my car in for a really good detail and wax. Now I can just stop by the carwash and hose it down when the pollen gets too bad. If only it were so easy to keep it out of my varnish!

  8. For whatever reason(s), I haven’t been as susceptible to Ashe juniper pollen in recent times as I was during my early years in Austin. At least once in the late ’70s or early ’80s it got so bad that I lost my voice, a real handicap for someone teaching five classes a day.

    The distinctive juniper hairstreak was one of the first butterflies I learned to identify here. The name I knew it by was the first one given in Tveten: the olive hairstreak, a reference to its color.

    1. Three of the five years I lived in Victoria, I lost my voice in December for a couple of weeks. It was a strange experience. My other allergy symptoms were mild, but my voice just faded away. People in town nodded sagely and said, “Cedar.” (Perhaps a tincture of cedar sage would have helped.)

      The photo of the juniper hairstreak’s from the only day I’ve come across them. I knew what it was right away, since I’d seen one on your blog; I was surprised and happy to find one. I see the gray hairstreaks more often. They’re fairly easy to find down here once the milkweeds start blooming.

  9. Interesting. It seems to me that everywhere gets some kind of pollen at some point in the year. Not that it makes it any easier to deal with, but does bring all of humanity together in its own way. Keep your tissues close at hand, eh?

    1. Every place there are plants, there will be pollen. It’s just that most aren’t quite as — enthusiastic — as the trees when it comes to sharing the wealth. The amount of pollen they produce does vary from year to year, so people follow the pollen forecast just as closely as they follow the weather. Right now, it’s all tree action. There’s not a bit of weed or grass pollen being recorded, but just wait: their time is coming.

    1. The butterfly’s one of my favorites, even though I’ve sighted it only once since I learned it existed. As for escaping the pollen, I enjoyed this exchange in the Q&A section of an esteemed native plant site:

      Q: “How far East of San Antonio and Austin do I have to go to avoid the pollen of Juniperus Ashei? Is Bastrop county safe? I’d be happy if it were gone 90% of the winter days – will the wind keep it away from Bastrop? ”

      A: “How about Shreveport, Louisiana? Mountain cedar’s allergen-laden pollen is capable of moving at least 500 km from source… We had to do a little math, but 500 km is approximately 312 miles, so the 327 miles from Austin to Shreveport would give you a little leeway.”

      We’re doomed!

  10. As an asthmatic, I have to grab the inhaler during the Juniper reproductive cycle. I’m pretty good for the rest of the year.

    This was an entertaining post, Linda. I always laugh at the Churchill/Astor comment. I think you would like this one. During an election campaign, Winston Churchill was speaking in a church hall in rural England. The hall was decorated in the well-accepted color scheme of that era – mission brown up to shoulder height, then cream up to and including the ceiling.

    When he finished his speech Churchill called for questions. The first came from a middle-aged woman dressed in country tweeds. “Mr. Churchill, I am a member of the Temperance League,” she said, “My local branch has been examining your use of alcohol. Are you aware, Prime Minister, that during your lifetime to date you have consumed enough alcohol to fill this hall up to here” stretching her arm dramatically to indicate the mission brown zone on the wall. “We want to know what you intend to do about it.” Churchill looked at the woman, followed her arm to the top of the mission brown zone, and then slowly allowed his gaze to move up through the cream zone to the ceiling. “So little time, so much to do,” he said.

    1. I suppose you had to cope with the pollen even when you were down on the coast. If It made it to Victoria and Port O’Connor, it surely would have made it to you. Now you’re in the thick of it, so keep that inhaler handy.

      The Churchill story’s wonderful. What makes it especially good is that it’s a twist on something I suspect we’ve all said at one time or another (or daily, for that matter). It’s also a good reminder that a certain personality type’s been with us longer than these days of social media. C.S. Lewis had something to say about them:

      ““Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.” “

  11. Watching that cedar release its pollen, I could begin to feel my eyes water and my nose become stuffy. No wonder I had so many sinus infections when I lived in Texas — thanks for reminding me, Linda. There’s something to be said about living where Spring takes a bit longer to appear, ha!

    I do love that green-winged butterfly though. I’ve never seen one here, but I don’t imagine we have anything to attract them. Isn’t Nature grand?

    1. I think the hairstreaks are among the cutest of the butterflies. Since this one depends on the Ashe juniper, it doesn’t live in your area, but we share other hairstreaks. The gray is the one I see most often, and it’s apparently quite common in your area. They’re quite small and fluttery, so I usually just get a glimpse of one while it’s on its way to somewhere else.

    1. The power of suggestion can be a wonderful thing — or not, if it’s pollen that’s being suggested. The best thing about pollen is that it’s a sign of more to come: more trees, more flowers, more crops. The worst thing? Well, we know what that is!

  12. Great insults and snarky comments. I laughed out loud. As to the pollen, Melanie gets sniffles about now each year. Nothing is growing here. But, in the past few days we’ve had strong SW winds giving us nice warm temps. I theorize the pollen is coming up here from TX.

    1. I’m glad to have given you a laugh. I suspect we all could do with a few laughs at this point, and I’ve always enjoyed a bit of sharp-edged give and take.

      I’m not sure our Ashe juniper pollen could make it all the way up there, but we just went through a week of getting red dust from Mexico, so who knows? There is a different juniper spreading joy in Oklahoma just now, and a strong SW wind certainly could carry that up to you. It’s really amazing how interconnected things are.

        1. That’s right Dust from the Sahara makes it to Texas, too, and we have wonderful sunsets when it does. From what I understand, some pollens don’t travel so far because of the size of their particles. They tend to drop to ground sooner than dust would. We used to see Sahara dust in Liberia, too. The pilot of our hospital plane could tell a lot about the direction of the prevailing winds by the color of the dust he’d find on the plane after a day’s flying. Pink, gray, and vaguely yellow were the usual colors.

    1. That’s great, Pit. I’ve had less and less trouble with the stuff as the years go on, but even a mild response isn’t especially pleasant. I hope you can avoid any problems the rest of the spring season, too.

  13. What a lively and fun article. If someone had told me they were going to write an entertaining piece about tree pollen, I’d have said, man if brains were dynamite, you couldn’t blow your nose. (no, I would not have said that, but you started it!). Fun, great photos, and darned if I didn’t learn something, too. Great post!

    1. Your comment was as funny as the wittiest Churchillism, Rob. I’m glad you enjoyed the post, and learned something, too. One of the things I enjoy about posts like these is that I learn a good bit while writing them, not to mention entertaining myself. At this time of year in Texas, people talk about pollen as much or more than they talk about the weather, unless they’re praying for rain to wash away all the green gunk, so writing about it seemed just right.

  14. Groucho Marx: “When I read how bad smoking was, I stopped reading.”

    The tree that can look as if on fire here in Australia is the casuarina. When it sheds its pollen it is a sight to behold.

    1. Marx was a master of the non-sequitur. We loved him because so much of his humor, like the example you quoted, made perfect sense to kids who’d prank call the neighbors and ask “Is your refrigerator running? You’d better go catch it.”

      I looked up the casuarina, and it’s beautiful. What intrigued me most is the name ‘she-oak.’ It took me a while to find any information, but this article’s especially interesting. It includes the note that the Ngarrindjeri have a separate word, kula, for male she-oak trees, while tungi is used for the female she-oak, which is considered sacred.

  15. Thanks for this great post and for lauding the wonderful qualities of Ashe junipers. Such excellent wildlife plants, they have a bad reputation because of that pollen business. Will I have folks with pitchforks, or tar and feathers, seek me out if I admit that, even as a native Texan AND one who lives on the edge of the Hill County, to never having experienced cedar fever? Barring the doors and shuttering the windows–NOW!

    1. It was interesting to do some link-hopping as I wrote this, tracking changes in thinking about the tree as water-hog. Despite the protestations of his wife, a friend in the hill country was convinced the cedar was draining their land of water, and he went after it full force. In the end, they never noticed any change at all — apart from the fact that they had the world’s largest firebreak aound their house and outbuildings.

      Who knows? Maybe your freedom from seasonal allergies is nature’s way of saying ‘thank you’ for all the care you provide your plants and such!

  16. I lament the loss of the snark retort. My Dad was a master, and managed to never crack a smile while doing it.
    The pines here are the pollen cloud makers. Thankfully I’m not allergic!

    1. The ones who can do it with a straight face are the best! My own dad was more of a punster, but word play is word play, and every variety is delightful.

      Our pines can be as bothersome as the cedars. I don’t seem to be allergic to pine pollen, but it certainly makes more of a mess. It seems to be a little sticky, too, so it doesn’t blow off things as easily as other pollens. A hose does better than a broom!

  17. Oh I loved the insults! Brilliant! I wish I was witty with comebacks like that!

    We have eastern red cedar here and for a while now people have been miserable with allergies, myself included. My elderly dog, Mr. T, suffers every year from cedar pollen. I did learn a lot here today, and that video was interesting. I’ve never seen such a thing!

    1. We have eastern red cedar, too. Reasonably enough, it’s found in the eastern part of the state, and it does its part to make people miserable.

      It is interesting to check pollen count statistics from time to time. Today, our cedar pollen count is only 54, but oak is 1,119. On the other hand, the total count for Houston is 1,387, while in San Antonio it’s only 127. It’s amazing how much difference some rain, the wind, and other factors can make. It’s raining here now, and I suspect by tomorrow a lot of the pollen will have been washed out of the air.

  18. Wow! These were truly witty remarks by some of the great people in history, literature and art world. Indeed, the search for such wit and intelligence will produce little in our world of primitive texting.

    1. The biggest difference in what I quoted and much of what passes for repartee today is the presence or absence of anonymity. Face-to-face bantering or publicly published comments are much different than anonymous rants posted on social media.

      I’ve begun to fear that behavior I see on social media is creeping into real life. The nastiness and crudeness typical of so many political events (on every side of several fences) is a direct reflection of what’s been happening on Twitter for several years. I can’t judge other sites, because I never signed up and don’t participate. Still, I’ve heard stories, and they’re not good. Now and then I think of something an old rancher told me: it’s fine to get under someone’s skin, but skinning them alive is a different matter.

  19. The coming of spring brings a heady freedom from winter, but like anything worth having, it is not without its price. One of my favorite put-downs was Dorothy Parker’s assessment of Katherine Hepburn’s performance in a particular play. She described it as “running the gamut of emotions from A to B.”

    1. There are a lot of heads hoping for freedom from our annual spring scourge, and the sooner the better. That Parker comment about Hepburn is great. It might be unfair, but it’s funny as can be.

  20. Churchill was indeed a clever fellow. Some of the snarky put downs I had previously read and most I had not. I enjoyed these very much.

    Now about all that pollen which is another matter unto its self. I have many allergies and have never bothered to take allergy injections. But- I just might have to reconsider since this year my eyes are red, itchyy and water constantly. There are just enough cedar trees in the western part of my city to cause a great deal of misery. Then there is the cedar pollen carried by the wind and you can bet lots of folks have the sniffles and are making a bee line to their docs for a steriod injection.

    1. There are a few well-known exchanges that still are remembered and referred to precisely because they are so well done. Every now and then I take down my copy of Louis Untermeyer’s anthology, A Treasury of Laughter and frolic through the puns, the jokes, the ethnic humor, the Little Willie jokes, and the writing of people like Twain and James Thurber. We need more humor in our lives, not to mention a moratorium on the phrase “I’m offended by…”

      I got past my hay fever and corn pollen allergies with those weekly shots during high school. It was a long process — maybe a year or more — but they worked well. I’m lucky that an occasional Benadryl takes care of things now, but I’m glad, too, that people who really suffer have options we didn’t have all those years ago.

    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed it. It’s fun to track down the history of some of our well-known quotations. They often go through a process that resembles the children’s game of ‘telephone,’ where the first person says “The dog played with a bone,” and by the sentence it’s been repeated all around the circle, the last person says the phrase is, “My player piano is red”!

      It’s good to see you. I realized I’d not been getting emails from you, so I just resubscribed to your blog. These systems certainly can make strange decisions for us from time to time.

  21. Cedar pollen is new to me — quite a spectacular release. Am glad to not experience the event since I fully expect I would not tolerate it well. Otherwise, would be a fascinating sight to see — and hear. I’ve never determined what specifically sets off my sinuses but certain winds blowing in off the desert sometimes will do it, other times not.

    1. It’s fascinating to read the air quality charts and see how many substances are being tracked. Right now, it’s all about tree pollen here, with a smattering of molds thrown in, but in time, tree pollen will disappear and the grasses, ‘weeds,’ and molds will take center stage. At least with the cedar, there’s no question when it’s around; it’s not at all sneaky.

    1. The site you linked to is a good one. I saved it as an easy reference, since I’m more and more often coming across plants and creatures from NZ and Australia. It’s funny; when I was looking at the photos of the tree, I suddenly remembered summer. Although it’s been a relatively mild winter here, it will be nice to have some warm, fragrant days.

      The tree’s pretty. It’s a shame that it bothers you so. It’s also a little amusing that the linked article mentioned its adoption as a common street tree because of its lower-growing tendencies: i.e., it doesn’t get into the power lines. One person’s trash tree is another’s landscaping solution, I suppose.

      I laughed at your comment about vanishing in pollen season. It’s the very worst. At least if a bug flies into wet varnish, you can toss the carcass and polish out the evidence, and the fluffy seeds that get caught generally are easy enough to pull off. But pollen? It just keeps landing until the varnish dries, and by that time it can be thick enough that the only solution’s sanding it off and putting on another coat — at my expense. It does teach patience.

      1. And now I think about it the power-lines in most areas where the trees are around here are underground. Public landscaping requires a great deal of thought and planning and sometimes I think those two elements get lost in some official’s enthusiasm over a new type of tree. I admire your patience with pollen.

  22. A wonderful post – well written with excellent photography, good video, biting wit. I’d not seen that second Churchill quotation before – and have to say I agree with T.S.Eliot’s assessment of Henry James.

    1. Some of my posts are essays, and some are poems, but occasionally I produce one that I think of as a collage: a mix of elements that with luck will form a coherent whole. They’re often quite a bit of fun to do, as this one was; I’m glad you enjoyed it. And, yes: that second Churchill story’s a gem, and I’d take Eliot over James any day.

  23. I wish you well with the pollen of the year. I know I’ll be dealing with it too in a few months but it sounds like it’s pretty intense where you are. I loved the quotes and literate put downs you listed in the top of the post. It makes me realize how far we’ve fallen in that most of the public put downs now are more like the schoolyard taunts than the literate words of Churchill, Wilde or Parker!

    1. Much of today’s public discourse proves a point Annie Dillard makes in The Writing Life: [The author] “is careful of what he reads, for that is what he will write. He is careful of what he learns, for that is what he will know.” People who spend their lives reading social media postings often end up speaking like social media postings, and a steady diet of memes and emojis isn’t necessarily the path to eloquence.

      It’s been raining steadily all day, and my wish for sunshine’s tempered a bit by the knowledge that this nice rain also is cleaning the air. Even the birds sound happy!

  24. I have never seen clouds of pollen like that. I have not suffered a great deal from pollen allergies but I have noticed in recent years I tend to sneeze a little more during periods of pollen abundance. As for wit, where are the Churchills of this world, the Oscar Wildes? Bons mots have become mauvais mots. Political discourse (oxymoron) especially has fallen to its lowest level in recent memory. I cannot imagine the lack of intellectual capacity when the leader of a country feels at liberty to text about others as losers and sleazebags. Remember in November folks!

    1. Think of that pollen as the botanical world’s equivalent of a flock of migrating songbirds. When it’s time to go, it goes: not by our schedule, but by its own.

      I was trying to think of someone in public life who might equal a Churchill or Wilde today. I’m sure they exist, but I suspect they’ll not be found among the politicians or entertainers. And quite apart from intellect, our society’s increasing insistence on uniformity of ideas doesn’t nurture repartee. When everything must be viewed through an ideological lens (of any sort) humor and spontaneity die.

  25. I love these lines – and the skillful transition:
    “Nature, on the other hand, continues to perfect the form. Each spring she offers up wordless taunts in a form difficult to counter: the impertinence called pollen.”
    Few have been taught the “artful insult” (or any sort of vocabulary) …such a shame.
    Great post.

    1. Impertinence is too little valued these days. It’s nice to have nature around to remind us of what it can be like when we’re not in control and not able to dictate the terms of everyone and everything’s behavior.

      Speaking of vocabulary, ‘cheeky,’ ‘spunky,’ and ‘impish’ seem to have gone out of fashion. We’d do well to bring them back, along with all the nature words the Oxford Dictionary saw fit to remove.

  26. I recall the first year my parents were visiting in their camper during cedar season. They had parked out in the hills West of Austin and called me to complain of the smoke of the wild fires. Being from the west coast, they’re used to those. I didn’t think at first and did a quick Google to see what was burning… Lo and behold, it was simply the cedar.

    Also being from the west coast, when I first moved here nearly twenty years ago now, I could not for the life of me find these blasted cedar trees. I saw juniper, sure, but where were all these cedars that would bloom in the coming “winter”? ;)

    1. That’s a great story about your folks’ visit, and their misinterpretation of the haze is understandable. It’s hard to imagine that pollen could create clouds like that, but once seen, it’s never forgotten.

      I first learned to call the trees mountain cedar, and it wasn’t until I became involved with native plants that I learned their scientific name, or that they belonged with the juniper. They’re still one of my favorites, despite not being stereotypically ‘pretty.’ They certainly are intertwined with the history of central Texas, and the wood lasts as long as any I know of. A friend of a friend who ranches over by Leakey has cedar fence posts that have been standing for three generations. Anyone who’s waited for a cedar pile to disintegrate would believe it.

  27. I love that pollen on water abstraction! I have been undergoing allergy shots over the last three years, and have found some relief in that. Trees are an especially acute trigger. My dad had allergies as a kid. They lived on the Canadian prairie and when he was a child and spring came my grandmother would pack up a tent and such and head off to the Rockies with him for a couple of weeks. I’d gladly trad anti-histimines for such a trip!

    1. Isn’t that a fun photo? When I lived next to the marina, things would collect in one corner as the tide moved in and out, and one day I looked down after a rain and saw the pollen. I thought, “Maybe that would make a nice photo” — and it did!

      I hope your shots are as helpful for you as they were for me.The thought of heading off to the mountains is wonderful, though. Parents do what they can; mine bought a window air conditioner and put it in one of their bedroom windows. When I got to the point where breathing was hard, or I just was miserable, I’d sit in front of it and breathe that cool air. It wasn’t mountain air, but it helped!

  28. I agree, if you’re going to insult someone, do it with a little class and intelligence. That at least makes it interesting! And I’ve never quite thought of pollen as nature’s insult, but I love that analogy. As someone who suffers a lot during the allergy season, I can relate!

    1. Class and intelligence always are good, even with insults. I’ve noticed that some of the best examples of repartee often are between people who know one another. It makes sense; it’s easier to poke at someone whose foibles you know! I laughed when I left for work this morning; the car was covered with a light coating of pollen. I haven’t checked the pollen report yet, but I’m sure it’s oak. I hope we both escape without any real problems this year.

  29. Goodness gracious! And here I was thinking we had it bad with oak and willow pollen. The photo of the pollen bomb exploding is beautiful.

  30. I always learn something from you! We have had a reddish film of dust on everything outside in the last few weeks, but because I have never considered myself to suffer from any pollen-related allergies, I never imagined that it might be the cause of one of the most horrific “colds” I’ve had in a long while; in fact, I’ve been blaming it on the volcanic ash I breathed in during a trip to Guatemala!

    The higher-minded insults are wonderful; I’d read many before, but the new ones put a big smile on my sneezing face!

    1. That red dust isn’t pollen! It’s dust that came up from Mexico on strong southwest winds. It happened here a few years ago, but I haven’t seen it since, until the last few weeks. Some of the weather gurus (NWS, etc.) picked up on it and confirmed it. I noticed it right away, because red dust, green and yellow pollen, ash from Louisiana cane fields, and such show up pretty well on white boat fiberglass. While they said this time the red stuff just was dust, the last time around it was tracked to some factories in Mexico — who knows? But it sure could explain your misery, since you haven’t been terribly affected by pollen in the past.

      Here’s one more good one for you:

      One day, Dorothy Parker and Clare Boothe Luce met at a revolving door. Parker, who was in a hurry, entered first. “After you, my dear,” said Mrs. Luce. “Age before beauty, you know.” “Yes,” Parker replied. “And pearls before swine.”

      1. I had also read that the red dust came from the Hill Country … wherever it came from, I am not happy with having to clean it off my outdoor items and (possibly) what it’s been doing to my nasal passages!

        My father has quoted the “pearls before swine” line many times, but I’m not sure I ever knew the original context (not sure he did/does either, now that I read it and think about it!)

        1. Before Dorothy Parker snarked it up, the original was in the Gospel of Matthew: chapter 7, verse 6. That actually adds to the amusement of it all. It’s a shame Mrs. Luce missed her opportunity to come back with some words about the Devil quoting scripture!

    1. Believe me, it’s much better to see the pollen via video that to wander around in that cloud! I’m glad you enjoyed it. It’s one of those bits of life that really is interesting, but we just don’t think about it much .

  31. I am with those who are fortunate not to have a pollen allergy…so far, anyway. One never knows what tomorrow will bring. Of course, it is hard to miss when those who do suffer those allergies are experiencing all the sneezing and red eyes. I don’t think our pollen releases are anything resembling that which the video shows. As far as insults, nowadays it is pretty much snark and not very thoughtful snark at that. And a step further, humor in general is not all that humorous and is basically insults or ridicule at the expense of others. Truly thoughtful comedy is hard to come by. A lot of those quotes were either new to me or they refreshed in the reading. All are world class. It is impressive when true wits start going at each other.

    1. It’s interesting how some people grow out of allergies, while others seem to develop them. I’ve found that moving into an area with unfamiliar plants sometimes would set me off, but after time, I’d seem to adjust. Here’s hoping you’re one of the lucky ones, and you continue to escape pollen predation.

      Even some of the professional comedians are beginning to mutter about how unsatisfying it is to try to do stand-up these days, and much of what passes for humor in films and such seems like an appeal to the worst in us. Of course, I grew up on the Smothers Brothers, Johnny Carson, and Laugh-In, so there’s that. Even early SNL was great. Today? Not so much. I miss the Church Lady! Well, and good old “One ringy-dingy…”

      1. Yup. The good old days. You hear that and think it’s just sour grapes but today’s humor isn’t funny very often. Sitcoms that portray stupidity as humor are popular for some reason and quite possibly that reason might be symptomatic of why we don’t get along with each other as a population. The collective we try to feel better about ourselves by ridiculing others. That said, I do get some perverse level of pleasure out of ridiculing myself as you may have noticed.

  32. First, Linda, loved the insults. It’s an art form for sure. Well I remember the taunts when I was young. (I recognize the ones you listed but ours tended be a little more colorful, loaded down with four letter words.) As for the pollen. Wow, and no thank you. –Curt

    1. I’ve been sitting here trying to remember when I first met four-letter words. I really think the first time I heard ‘damn’ spoken was when Rhett Butler let loose in GWTW. That was sixth grade, for heaven’s sake. My parents never swore, although my dad occasionally would express exasperation by saying “Jesus H. Christ.” I never knew what that meant — was Jesus’s middle name Herbert? — and I’m still not sure. I need to look that up. Of course, being boys, you probably were a little more worldly than I was!

      As impressive as the sight of the pollen is, hearing it pop is even better. It’s like hearing corn grow. You don’t believe it’s possible, but it is.

  33. I have certainly heard about the pollen issue in Texas, but it was only when I saw your video of it that I could fully comprehend what it means! I had no idea that the gusts of pollen were so large and so extensive… I am allergic to dust so I imagine that this kind of pollen would not agree with me very well.

    Interesting start to your post with words being used to hurt. What amazes me still today is how mean girls are to each other AND how young the meanness and exclusion begins. Very different to boys who are more supportive of each other and would not “snitch” on each other for anything.

    I do appreciate the way you weaved this post together! Nicely done.


    1. What’s interesting to me is that I don’t remember those childhood taunts and exchanges being hurtful, and I don’t remember any real intent to hurt. They were like verbal snowballs, or the crabapple wars: we fought constantly, but it was play-with-a-purpose, as educators say today. We were learning to cope with situations, and with one another. I also remember the adults’ willingness to let us sort it out for ourselves, whether at home or on the playground. I’ve tried and tried to recall any instance of a parent or teacher stepping into the middle of our goings-on. It must have happened, but it wasn’t common.

      Clearly, things have changed, and social media (with the anonymity it provides) is a good part of the reason. If the tendency toward nastiness exists, social media exacerbates it, partly because the social controls inherent in face-to-face interactions are missing.

      Anyway: we may not be able to control others’ behavior, but we can control our own. I wish some of our public figures could begin to understand that.

      As for the pollen? It’s quite a phenomenon: fascinating and fearful both, especially for people who are sensitive to it. Some people respond to it badly, while others have no reaction at all. I don’t know if they’ve figured out what makes the difference.

  34. I love the Oscar Wilde insult. The pollen video is quite incredible. The closest I’ve seen here is when yew sheds its pollen. No explosion, just an eerie suspension. The pollen is so light it just hangs in the air next to the tree in huge, dense clouds until wafted away.

    1. Before I met the Ashe juniper, I’d seen some plants that shoot their seeds far and wide, but the pollen was quite a new experience. It sounds as though your yew isn’t quite so assertive, but a cloud of pollen is a cloud of pollen!

  35. Gack! I sneezed just watching the film.

    Children are very often merciless and cruel in their teasing, and it seems to have gotten worse, what with the internet. Now they can troll each other as well.

    1. The power of suggestion is strong! I hope your sneezes didn’t last long.

      From what I’ve observed (and I’ll confess I’ve observed very little, since I’ve foresworn social media apart from some reading) the adults have completely outstripped the kids in terms of trolling and sheer nastiness. There surely was cruelty and pain and conflict when I was growing up, but at least we recognized it for what it was. I’m not sure that’s always true today.

  36. What a fun post Linda. I recently saw some television from Spain and they also have sharp-tongued expressions that still surprise me to this day.

    I had no idea the pollen from junipers was released this way. Thanks for showing this.

    I am also fascinated by Ashe juniper cones’ photo by Bob Harms, from University of Texas. They have a different cone appearance than the other pine species I’ve seen here. They also produce the Ashe juniper berries, which is fascinating.

    1. The Ashe junipers are dioecious, so there are male and female trees. The females produce the blue, berry-like cones, and the males produce the pollen — Bob Harms’s photo is of the male tree. When male and female reproductive parts are on the same tree, it’s said to be monoecious. I looked up some examples, and found pine, birch, and ash listed.

      I guess the male juniper has to expel that pollen with a little extra ‘oomph’ to get it over to the female trees!

      Your reference to sharp-tongued expressions reminded me that I haven’t heard anyone described as ‘sharp-tongued’ in quite a while. When I was young, it was a common expression.

      1. “I guess the male juniper has to expel that pollen with a little extra ‘oomph’ to get it over to the female trees!” Haha! That is superb!

        I found out there is also a ‘silver tongue’, a ‘wicked tongue’, and a ‘forked tongue’. The ‘sharp tongue’ expression is still used but only casually, in more conservative circles, because I found it being used in an article from ‘Psychology Today’, in 2018. As you say, it’s no longer used as a common, every-day expression anymore.

  37. I’ve gotta say I’m glad the junipers aren’t nearly as thick over here as they are not very far west of us. Don’t worry, we’ve got pine and hickory pollen coming our way soon.

    Love those juniper hairstreaks. I need to find another one this year.

    1. When I went out yesterday, there was a layer of pollen all over everything. From the looks of our oak trees, I think I know where it might have come from.

      The juniper hairstreak is such a pretty thing. This is the only one I’ve seen, but I’m glad it was willing to pose.

  38. I happened to see an article yesterday waring that this will be a particularly bad pollen year all over the US. sigh. We’ll go from snow to sneezes, I guess.
    That hairstreak photo is absolutely gorgeous! I’ve looked in vain for them here, although I’m told historically they would have been here.

    1. I don’t think the juniper hairstreak would have been in your area, but there are so many, it’s breathtaking. I can’t remember now the number of hairstreak species there are, but it’s a lot. Three hundred sticks in my mind. The one I see most often is the gray hairstreak, or one that has its bits of color arranged slightly differently. I often see them perching vertically, and I also read they keep their rear ends pointed up, so the little antennae-like appendanges there confuse predators.

      1. An entomologist I knew when I was monitoring told me to look. He said that historically they were here. I used to love hairstreak season. Late in summer, when the butterfly weed was in full swing, that’s when I’d see them~hickory hairstreaks, Edward’s, banded, and some others. Cute little guys, and fast, fast.

  39. Oh, dear. It’s Cedar Fever time?

    I’ve already noticed pine pollen on my truck but that stuff just sifts down. It doesn’t explode.

    I love your collection of zingers in your post. Dorothy Parker, Winston Churchill. Maggie Smith’s zingers as the Dowager Duchess was worth watching Downton Abbey just for them alone.

    1. Yes, ma’am, it is, although we’re on the backside of it now, and the pine and oak pollen is cranking up. (Or down, I suppose.)

      The thing about such delicious repartée is that it depends on a quick wit and a quick reply. With so many people worried about offending others today — and so many willing and eager to be offended — the thrust and parry of rapier wit doesn’t show up so often. It certainly is delightful when it does.

  40. I was just listening to a podcast with Jonathan Haidt, who also draws a similar comparison between taunts and pollen. His point is rather straight-forward, to build up an immunity, you must be exposed.

    1. He’s absolutely right, although I came to the same point more obliquely. I must say, the thought that Haidt and I came to the same conclusion tickles me. I presume you’ve read his The Righteous Mind. If not, I recommend it.

  41. Until I read this post I had never heard of cedar trees suddenly releasing their pollen. It looks like a really interesting phenomena – though the allergic reaction and cedar fever sound awful.

    1. It certainly is awful for those who are sensitive to the pollen, although not everyone is. Over the years, I’ve apparently developed some immunity to it, and I no longer suffer as I did my first years in Texas. I didn’t mind the red, watery eyes or the sneezes so much, but losing my voice was an inconvenience.

    1. If the photo caught your eye, the experience itself would certainly capture your attention. We’ve moved on from cedars to oaks and pine now, but the symptoms are the same — it’s just that the spread isn’t so dramatic!

    1. It’s really a remarkable phenomenon, and a good reminder of just how creative plants can be when it comes to spreading pollen and seed in order to continue their species. Every spot in the world has these little ‘wonders’ — even when we don’t appreciate the effect they have on us.

  42. Quite interesting about the mountain cedar and it’s prolific pollen. I’ve never seen anything quite like the cedar releasing its pollen as the video shows.
    The pollen count is going up here in Southern Arizona. We’ve had a fair amount of rain, so we’re expecting a nice bloom through this next month at least. So far lupine and brittle bush are the first, which blooms yellow all over the desert, as does the creosote. Behind us, we have a giant silver senna bush that blooms yellow flowers half the winter.
    I hope you don’t have too many side effects.

    1. Your mention of the senna intrigued me. We have one called Lindheimer’s senna that also has yellow flowers, and although it doesn’t get large, it’s quite pretty. Our bluebonnets are just beginning to bloom, too. I spent the weekend at a cemetery and environs down the coast where the wildflowers were prolific, and have enough material to keep Lagniappe supplied for a month. The fields aren’t abloom yet, but that will come.

      The cedar pollen’s gone away, but now it’s oak and pine. In another few weeks, that will be over with, and then we can begin grumping about the heat — that we’ve longed for all winter long. Humans!

  43. So my beautiful cedar is the culprit when my visitors start sneezing! I’m mum. No telling. Doesn’t bother me. I’m keeping the tree. When they indicate a problem I’ll something like “Rosy nose, rosy nose; what color are you toes.” Or something equally distracting. As I said, I’m keeping the tree. I love the insults without the F word.

    1. Absolutely, you should keep your tree. The trees are only doing what they’re supposed to; we should be as true to our nature. I’m with you when it comes to preferring creative insults that are suitable for mixed company or children. A good bit of our ‘insults’ when I was a kid was understood to be teasing, and a little fun-poking wasn’t the end of the world. If we’re lucky, we’ll even learn to laugh at ourselves.

  44. I certainly embrace the “swirl of a new season into our lives,” Linda, and am grateful not to suffer from allergies. I have always thought of them as a particularly cruel way of spoiling what is otherwise many people’s favorite season. But I still don’t think nature is as cruel as some humans, as your various quotes prove.

    1. That’s interesting. I’ve never thought of any of those quotes as cruel. The ones from childhood often led to giggles as we tried to outdo one another, and the thrust and parry of those sharp-tongued adults weren’t much different than the conversation at our dinner table. We weren’t as clever as a Dorothy Parker or an Oscar Wilde, but we admired them. Of course, if I loaned you my copy of our family ‘bible’ of humor, A Treasury of Laughter, edited by Louis Untermeyer, you’d probably roll your eyes. Humor in the 1940s was different than it is today. Of course, my sense of humor’s always been a little quirky, so there’s that.

      We’ve left cedar behind, and now it’s oak that’s set everyone to sneezing. I was in a different part of the state last weekend, and it was obvious that the pollen load was different. I didn’t start sneezing again until I was without sixty miles of home!

      1. While some of these quotes are humorous, I think many are mean-spirited and can cut to someone’s quick and be hurtful. But maybe all those famous people were made from a different cloth than I.
        I hope sneezing season will be over for you before too long, but that might be a pipe dream.

  45. In my area, it’s pine pollen that covers everything. I’m not allergic to it, but it defaces my yard, car, and coats the natural world. The juniper hairstreak is beautiful and a beautiful image. I’m lucky enough to have a location for them a mile from where I live. It’s rare for me to get as close to them as you did for your picture. I usually have to shake the juniper (red cedar) to see them, and then see them up high in the tree. My local C. gryneus isn’t as vivid a green as the one you photographed, either.

    1. A friend and I washed our vehicles today, and they sure needed it. Cedar’s a non-issue now, but the oak trees have been up to no good. I’ll say this; they’re prolific pollen producers.

      I’ve had the best luck seeing hairstreaks up in the hill country, where they seem especially fond of antelope horn milkweed. This is the only juniper hairstreak I’ve come across, but there are other species that seem to be pretty common. I think the colors of this one are splendid, and I’m so glad it was willing to hang around on the milkweed for a while.

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed it! Thank goodness the cedar season is over now — although I think most of us would be happy to be dealing only with pollen just now, rather than a virus!

  46. Very true. Especially delightful for me was the exchange between Shaw and Churchill; I had never read that before, and it so made me smile. Smiles are most welcome these days! Thanks again, and Happy weekend.

  47. Back in February I somehow missed seeing your picture of the Hairstreak, who is such a dramatic creature, and close in color to some junipers, I think… ? Butterflies just seem impossible, the way they are so delicately exquisite, yet enduring. I’m glad they’re really real and not impossible.

    1. Since the Ashe juniper is the host for the juniper hairstreak, it makes sense to me that a little color coordination would be going on. I do love the hairstreaks. They’re so tiny, and so fast, and so hard to photograph, but to capture the image of one? There’s nothing better.

      I found what I thought was an injured monarch in my parking lot a couple of days ago. Then, I realized that it was clinging rather firmly to a twig. I think the twig with the butterfly attached fell from the tree above the parking lot. I picked them both up, and put the butterfly in a safe, sunlit place, thinking it might have been drying its wings. Sure enough — two hours later, it was gone. I suspect wing-drying was, in fact, taking place.

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