Pollen in New Mexico
NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – Warm, windy New Mexico springtime brings desert blossoms and a chance to get outdoors. But, spring also brings pollen. Floating with the breeze, these tiny plant particles can cause allergies for New Mexicans across the state. But what is pollen?
Pollen is the male reproductive tissue of many plants, including some trees, flowers, and grasses in New Mexico. Pollen grains range in size, and smaller pollen tends to spread using wind, says Marisa Thompson, an urban horticulturist at New Mexico State University. Larger pollen, on the other hand, tends to be spread by animals, not the wind. So, plants with larger pollen grains tend to cause fewer airborne allergy-related issues, she adds.
Most of the allergy-causing pollen in New Mexico is smaller than the width of a human hair, according to the City of Albuquerque’s pollen identification page. Many New Mexican plants can cause allergies, but some of the main pollen producers across the metro are juniper, cedar, elm, willow, poplar (including Aspen and Cottonwoods), mulberry, and sage.
The different plants bloom in different seasons, says Dan Gates. He’s a data manager at the City’s Air Quality Program, which provides email updates on Albuquerque’s air quality. Elm usually comes first in the year, he says. Juniper comes next and then ash. Once the weather begins to warm, mulberry arrives.
“Mulberry is usually the pollen that we see the most of because it’s a very prolific producer,” Gates says. And in spring, weed-like chenopods (goosefeet) bloom along with sage and other native desert plants, he says. And as the spring plants are blooming, juniper pollen can also return, he adds.
So time plays a large role in which pollens are floating around at any given time. But it’s not the only factor. Rain also plays a role.
“If we get a rainstorm or snow storm, that rain and that snow is going to keep that pollen very close to the plant,” Gates explains. In humid weather, airborne pollen generally won’t travel as far as it would in dry weather. This means that the amount of rain we get during the monsoons season can affect the pollen count.
Monsoon rain can “knock the pollen out of the atmosphere,” Gates says. “But that rain is also going to stimulate maybe other weeds and other shrubs to produce more pollen.” But generally speaking, he says that dry, hot springs and summers bring higher pollen counts. And recently New Mexico has been particularly dry due to an historic drought.