Plants That May Cause Allergies in Maricopa and Yavapai County

Are These Plants the Reason Yavapai County Residents Are Battling with Allergies?

Arizona used to be the place that allergy sufferers would flock to as a safe haven. This does not seem to be the case any longer. Tucson, Phoenix and Scottsdale have two times the occurrence of allergies and hay fever as the rest of the United States.

Tucson has kept airborne pollen records for more than half a century. Bees pollinate many of the native and non-native plants in and around Tucson. However, over the past decades many people have been planting wind pollinated plants that they brought with them from more temperate parts of the country. As a result, the allergy problems in Arizona have increased.

What Exactly Is Pollen?

Without getting too deep into botany, pollen is produced by the male part of a flower. The anther produces pollen. The anther deposits pollen grains produced on the stigma, or female part of the same flower or of the different flower. The plants can be of the same species or close relatives.

When pollination occurs, a pollen tube grows in the direction of the ovary, leading to fertilization and seed development. This ensures that seeds are produced for the next generation of plants. The downside for Arizona residents is that pollen leads to allergies, sinus headaches, and other respiratory troubles.

Plants of different species have different pollination times throughout the year. Pollination begins early in the morning, shortly after dawn. As the sun rises, the flowers open up and the anthers, the pollen producing parts of the plant, become exposed to the dry air. This causes the anthers to open up and expose pollen grains that are carried away by the air.

bee pollinates a flower in Scottsdale AZ

Air Pollinators Versus Insect Pollinators

The flowers that we have in Arizona are primarily pollinated by insects or by air. There is a structural difference between wind pollinated flowers and insect pollinated flowers.

Insect pollinated flowers are colorful and have a powerful fragrance. They usually produce nectar or some other substance that attracts insects. Wind pollinated plants produce an abundant amount of pollen because pollination can only happen if by chance the pollen from one flower lands on a compatible flower as it is carried through the wind. The pollen grains that wind pollinated plants produce are the ones that cause most of the allergy and hay fever symptoms that people feel.

Why Arizona Is Bad for Allergy Sufferers

Your body will try to stave off an unknown substance by creating antibodies. Antibodies lead to the release of histamines that cause inflammation and respiratory issues. Therefore, allergy symptoms include sneezing and coughing. Sneezing and coughing is your body’s way of attempting to expel pollen.

Phoenix and Scottsdale Arizona is known for its hot and dry climate. This makes the severity of the symptoms caused by wind born pollen even greater. When the air is dry, pollen becomes more dehydrated and buoyant. This means that it can travel over a great distance. It is not uncommon for pollen to reach heights of 40,000 feet and to travel over 50 miles in Arizona.

One of the most common native plants in Arizona is the juniper. It creates wind based pollen. Junipers release their pollen between the months of February and March. Other native weeds in Arizona include carelessweed and ragweed. Both create pollen that people are allergic to.

carelessweed allergies in Scottsdale
carelessweed in AZ

How Non-Native Plants Are Impacting Allergies

Arizona residents can do little to minimize pollen produced by native plants. However, they can minimize the number of foreign species of plants they have in their home or in their garden. While it may be tempting to bring plant species from other climate zones to Arizona, these can make allergy seasons worse.

The ironic thing is that many of the people who opted to move to Arizona to help with their allergies bring with them plants and flowers that make allergy season worse for everyone. Arizona has a dry landscape. However, when people come from different climate zones, they want to make their landscape look more hospitable. Unfortunately for allergy sufferers, the trend of introducing ornamental plants from temperate zones is popular today.

When a particular grass, tree, or shrub is overused in the landscape, it can cause the plant to become a powerful allergen. A varied landscape that includes different types of plants has long been recommended as a way of controlling pests and preventing diseases the plants. This same technique may help protect allergy sufferers.

There are two plants that seem to be the primary offenders in central Arizona.

One is cynodon dactylon, also known as Bermuda grass. This is the worst offender because it creates two times as much pollen every day as any other plant. Bermuda grass can flower multiple times throughout the growing season, so this can lead to allergy seasons starting in the spring and going all the way through the fall.

The other is morus alba, also referred to as the fruitless mulberry. Many see this plant as a serious airborne pollen creator. This tree is native to more temperate environments. It’s usually planted to control heat and produce dense shade.

Mulberries are unique in that one tree produces male pollen and the female tree produces flowers. Many people prefer planting the fruitless mulberry because it has all the benefits of the mulberry tree without creating a ton of messy fruit. Some allergy sufferers believe that the pollen caused by the mulberry is producing more problems than it solves.