Saturday, April 9, 2022


The Sneezy Season is approaching. Mother Nature gave us a warning several weeks ago during the few days of warm weather. 

One morning while watching the sunrise, I noticed there was a fine mist of "something" yellow filtering through the trees and gently falling to the ground. I saw another burst of yellow, then another in a different direction. Meditative thoughts were--how beautiful, how privileged to be able to watch nature---. Then I came to my senses and realized it was POLLEN and that I would be miserable the rest of the day. Which I was.  

That was the day I pulled one of my favorite books off the shelf. The book is "The Allergy-Fighting Garden" by Thomas Leo Ogren. 

Ogren is a horticulturist and allergy researcher, a former landscape gardening instructor and a nursery owner. Ogren developed an allergy rating scale for over 3,000 plants. The rating scale is OPALS, an acronym for Ogren Plant Allergy Scale. The ratings are numbered 1-10, with 1 being the least allergenic. More than 130 possible factors are used to develop the ranking system, both positive and negative.  

I spent the winter of 2021 going through the OSU publication of "Water-wise Gardening in Central Oregon" and marking each plant listed with the OPALS rating. There can be a significant difference between male and female plant. An example is the Rocky Mountain Maple, Acer glabrum. The rating on the male is 8, a female is 1. 

Most of the Oaks have a rating of 9. Female junipers-the ones that produce the berries are rated as low. Male junipers are rated high. Our Oregon Grape Holly, Mahonia has a rating of 2. Russian Sage, Perovskia atriplicfolia has a rating between 1-2. Spirea species are higher at a rating of 5. Barberry, Berberis species are rated as a 3. Lilacs range between 5-6. Serviceberry or Juneberry, Amelanchier species are rated as 3. Redtwig Dogwood, Cornus stolonifera is rated as 5. 

Ground covers were a bit of a surprise to me. Curlicue Sage with its unique foliage varies between a 7-9. Partridge Feather is rated at 5. Dianthus species fall between 1-3. Thyme species are rated as a 3. In addition to being a magnet for pollinators, Agastache species also have a low rating of 3. Black-eyed Susan and Blanket Flower are rated as a 5 and a 6. For me that means be sure and carry a tissue. 

I have lived with allergies all my life. Goldenrod was the worst growing up. I consider it fortunate that it is just the discomfort of sneezing and all that comes with that. Many allergy-prone friends suffer from migraine headaches and the lack of energy. 

Studies show that the allergy season is 20 days longer in North America now than in 1990. According to the American Lung Association there has been an increase in juvenile asthma. Ogren has been asked to visit elementary school sites at the requests of parents to evaluate playgrounds. At one school he found 21 out of 26 trees were highly allergenic. At another school he found 15 out of 17 trees were highly allergenic. Gives one food for thought. 

Perhaps we should be paying more attention to the landscaping decisions especially of elementary schools.

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