Yep, it’s true. Tuesday saw our first count of mountain cedar this season -- about two weeks ahead of schedule. From now through Valentine’s Day, thousands of us who are allergic to cedar will have to combat itchy and watery eyes, a scratchy throat, and lots of sneezing.
CEDAR KEY POINTS:
- Mountain cedar pollen typically peaks in mid-January, ends by Valentine’s Day
- We usually see a spike in mountain cedar after a cold front, when winds from the north bring pollen to San Antonio from the Hill Country
- Over-the-counter allergy medicines are the first thing to try when treating a mountain cedar allergy, but you may have to get allergy shots if you have a particularly high sensitivity to the pollen
What is mountain cedar?
First thing to know about mountain cedar: they technically aren’t cedar trees at all.
What we call “cedar trees” are a type of juniper tree -- specifically Ashe juniper -- named after William Willard Ashe (1872-1932), who was a pioneer forester for the US Forest Service.
True cedar trees reside near the Mediterranean Sea, around Europe and northern Africa. However, juniper trees here in Texas do bear at least some resemblance to cedar trees.
“So, a lot of the explorers, when they were first coming to the western United States, encountering these trees, they just referred to them as cedars because of that resemblance,” said Karl Flocke, a woodland ecologist with Texas A&M Forest Service.
Where do mountain cedar trees reside?
Cedar resides throughout Texas, even up west of Fort Worth, stretching into parts of Oklahoma and Arkansas.
But a dense cedar forest exists in the Texas Hill Country. Karl Flocke said this is, “because they really thrive on limestone soils, hilly environments, areas that don’t have very deep soil at all.”
The Hill Country is home to more than 35 million tons of cedar (juniper) trees, according to the Texas A&M Forest Service, which measures trees by weight.
It’s in this part of Texas -- around San Antonio, Austin, and throughout the Hill Country -- where we really feel the impacts from cedar pollen.
In the Alamo City, we typically will see a surge of mountain cedar after a cold front moves through, sweeping up pollen from the trees in the Hill Country. The wind will then carry the pollen south to San Antonio.
Did you know that there are male and female mountain cedar trees?
The female cedar trees, which are only distinguishable by their juniper berries, produce no pollen or allergies whatsoever... that’s the job of male trees!
From December through mid-February, tiny cones on the male cedar trees produce pollen. Once those cones open, exposing the pollen, the grains are then carried by the wind to the waiting female trees. And, unfortunately, into our eyes and sinuses as well.
According to Shannon Syring, who is a Certified Pollen Collector that has been providing KSAT with the pollen count for years, a typical mountain cedar season peaks at 20,000 to 32,000 grains per cubic meter of air. That’s roughly a 3-foot by 3-foot space.
Allergist Dr. Dennis Dilley said all that pollen in the air makes for “itchy eyes, watery eyes, sneezing fits, followed by just copious amounts of mucus.”
With “cedar fever” impacting many people every year, it’s no wonder that some grow to hate mountain cedar and its dreaded pollen.
How to treat cedar allergies
Because everyone reacts differently to a mountain cedar allergy, most allergists suggest using many different treatments. Try consistently taking an allergy pill or using a nasal spray. Allergy drops are also helpful for many. When all else fails, allergy shots from a specialist is another option.
Will cutting down mountain cedar trees eliminate allergies?
In the city of San Antonio, it is legal to remove cedar trees from your property -- and you may want to for various reasons. Maybe you’d only rather have oaks on your property. Maybe you just don’t like the looks of the cedars.
But if you think the few cedars on your property are causing your allergy issues, remember that there are still thousands of trees in the Hill Country. If a cold front kicks up the winds from the north in the wintertime, that pollen is still going to be an issue.
Keeping up with the pollen count
Every morning, on KSAT 12 & KSAT.com, Your Weather Authority reports the pollen count. To understand more about the pollen count process, check out this nifty article: How does the pollen count for San Antonio work?
We also send a push notification to your phone through our Weather Authority App daily.
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