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Sticking up for the Pine tree

Posted: April 24, 2014 5:10 p.m.
Updated: April 25, 2014 5:00 a.m.

Stately pines provide shade and beauty in historic Hampton Park.

Nothing quite marks spring here in South Carolina like the blooming of daffodils and dogwoods, the fluttering of robins and the release of the pine pollen. Each spring as I walk my dog through the woods during the height of pine pollen release, my footsteps stir the airy spores and coat my shoes. Is it annoying? You betcha. But you know this is the natural order of things and one of Mother Nature’s most basic processes, reproduction.

We all see, in part, the pine trees’ showy sex habit; as the male flowers develop and mature, they release (by the tons it seems) lemon-yellow pollen spores for the female flowers to capture and absorb. Unfortunately there are a lot more spores floating around than can be encapsulated. Thus, they drift en mass through the air and land on, well, everything. It is the bane of existence for folks who like a clean house, a spotless car, a pretty patio and a neat carport - you name it, it’s on it. Even the family dog and cat lounging outside will become sprinkled with pollen. It is futile to fight it and senseless (in my opinion) to dust and wash and spray and polish until it’s all said and done, which can take up to 3 to 4 weeks.

In addition, pine pollen is not the primary pollen that many allergy suffers suffer from. In terms of pollen, pine pollen is very large, ranging from 45 to 85 micrometers. Because of its size and weight, it is not as readily inhaled and falls to the ground faster than other types of pollen. The tree pollen most responsible for causing asthma and allergy symptoms comes from ash, birch, cedar, cypress elm, hickory, maple oak and sycamore trees. These trees produce pollen ranging in size from 20 to 35 micrometers. So, please stop blaming the pines for your runny nose, itchy eyes and sinus headaches.

Unfortunately, pines are not only disliked for their pollen. Many folks who experienced the effects of Hurricane Hugo remember the pines that snapped in half like match sticks and as a result, continue to hold the species in a negative light. As a witness to that event, I can empathize, but there aren’t many trees that can weather a Category 3 hurricane very well, regardless of their species. Some folks don’t like pines because of the probability of them being hit by lightning. Pines tend to be a consistent target of lightning strikes because they’re usually the tallest feature in the landscape.

So, if we cut down the pine tree, what’s the next tallest feature, a house? Personally, I’d rather have a pine tree in my yard get struck by lightning than my house, which by the way has actually happened -- twice. The first tree survived the hit 15 years ago and the second tree (hit last year) died. Much to my husband’s dismay, we did not have it removed and last spring it became a nesting site for a red-bellied woodpecker. Now, it’s basically disintegrating in place and becoming home to many non-threatening insects that the birds love to eat. Lastly, we have folks like my Dad (a lawn ranger for many years) who see pine cones as nasty little nuisances that litter the yard, are back-breaking to pick up and are not very friendly to one’s lawn mower either.

So, in honor of Earth Day earlier this week, let me share with you why I’m sticking up for the pine tree and its importance to all of us! First, there’s nothing more “green” or “environmentally friendly” than growing a tree, period. Trees, even pines, provide us with many ecological benefits. They help filter noise and screen unsightly views, prevent soil erosion and slow storm water runoff, make our parks and neighborhoods beautiful, provide habitat for many different kinds of birds and animals, filter harmful dust and pollutants from the air and contribute to the social well-being of a community. A contribution from the pine tree we could not live without is the release of oxygen and absorption of carbon dioxide 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, much for our benefit, I may add!

Second, the propagation, growing, harvesting and processing of pine trees are a tremendous boost to our state’s economy. These activities provide countless numbers of jobs throughout our state. From Christmas tree growers to commercial nursery growers, tree farmers, pine straw companies, arborists, residential tree service companies and foresters, loggers, truck drivers to the folks who work at the paper and saw mills and, lest I forget, lumber supply stores. According to the S.C. Forestry Commission’s Forest Industry Fact Sheet (February 2014), in terms of the market place, forestry is number one among manufacturing industries in jobs (90,624) and payroll ($4.1 billion). The total economic impact of South Carolina’s forest industry is around $17 billion annually. This would not be possible if it weren’t primarily for the pine tree!

Third, where would you be without toilet paper? Up the creek I suppose, but we won’t go there. “TP” is by far one of the most important and only one of hundreds of products made from or through the physical and/or chemical processing of wood. And where does wood come from? Pine trees of course. Without pines we wouldn’t have picnic tables, benches, houses, furniture, floors, countertops, artificial vanilla extract, paper bags, fire wood, writing paper, magazines, newspapers, plastic wrap, rayon fabric, asphalt, paint, chewing gum, detergents, turpentine, cleaning compounds, deodorants, hair spray, medicines, cosmetics and so much more!

Lastly, pine trees are a renewable resource; we will never run out as long as we replant what has been cut. I hope that you now have a better appreciation for or at least an understanding of why I stick up for the pines and you should too! Go hug and thank a pine tree today … I dare you.


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