Look out for the pine cone pollen

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I have something odd that is happening outside my house right now. My deck and furniture on the deck are covered by a fine layer of yellow dust. It is everywhere. When I try to wipe it up, it smears. When I attempted to smell it, I just started sneezing. It’s even in my pine trees around my deck. I shook a branch and it was also covered by this yellow dust that floated down. Is this industrial pollution or are my neighbors spraying some terrible chemicals again?

The source of your contamination is much closer to home. Actually, it’s surrounding your deck.

In the spring, large pines produce pollen cones. These are on the branches, right behind the new growth. They resemble little buttons or balls. There are no needles in this area. Out of these pollen cones comes pollen. If everything goes the way it should, pine cones will be produced later in the summer.

For pines, especially white pines, this pollen can look as yellow as sulfur dust. This spring with its abundant rain caused many plants to jump into overdrive in the growth department. For evergreens, large numbers of pollen cones and later, woody pine or spruce cones can be produced in response to the excesses. A drought the year before can also stimulate this activity.

A great deal of rain and ideal temperatures can cause this to happen in the spring when pollen cones are produced. If you lived in many southern states where loblolly pines grow, the pollen can be so heavy in the air that it looks like fog or smoke.

Needless to say, many people who have allergies are greatly irritated by the pounds of pollen landing in their eyes or going up their noses. If you are sneezing, you now know why. Be patient; the pollen storm will soon be at its end, if it hasn’t already.  It’s just nature doing natural things.

Are plant stems having some kind of a problem? In my yard, there are dozens of different kinds of plants that have what looks like a mass of foamy bubbles around the stems in places. There is some in my Scotch pine tree and there are bubbles on weeds. It was icky but I tried to knock the bubbles off and I think they are coming out of the stem. Why are the stems oozing?

The stems aren’t oozing; they are getting sucked. Your tiny suckers are called spittle bugs. In some places, they are known by the quaint name of froghoppers and the frothy liquid they dispense is called frog spit, cuckoo spit or snake spit.

These guys belong to the order of true bugs that are sucking insects. The bubble makers are the juveniles or nymphs. They pierce the plant’s stem and suck out some of the delicious plant-flavored goodness. They excrete the rest out their “bug exit” end and it comes out as foam.

The foam serves several purposes. It hides the little guys from predators, it moderates the temperature, shades them and it keeps them from drying out. It is also an icky deterrent for curious humans. Very few brave souls will squish through the bubble-storm to discover them.

As weird as their little existence is, in most cases, they do not do much damage.

If you have small plants and there are many foamy masses, you can limit their existence. You can use a hose and wash them off. They do have the ability to jump, so some could return. You could spray the bubbles vigorously with insecticidal soap. The spray has to be strong enough to penetrate the foam. That should kill them. But for high in trees, washing them away with a stream of water is quick and easy. Their mini taxi meters are running and they will be gone in a couple of weeks.

Contact Gretchen Voyle, MSU Extension-Livingston County Horticulture Educator, at (517) 546-3950.

About Gretchen Voyle 51 Articles
Gretchen Voyle is the MSU Extension-Livingston County Horticulture Educator. She can be reached at (517) 546-3950.