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Cedar Fever Plagues Area Residents, Producing COVID-Like Symptoms in Allergy Sufferers

There's no hiding from cedar pollen in Canyon Lake at the moment. Ashe juniper trees are pollinating with the help of cold fronts that blow pollen for miles, creating a yellow haze that makes many allergy sufferers sick. File image.

Is it Omicron or “cedar fever?”

Texas A&M Forest Service says the symptoms allergy sufferers endure every time a December/January cold front blasts pollen off of mountain cedar trees — aka Ashe junipers — can be very similar to those of COVID-19, another airborne foe currently plaguing Canyon Lake residents.

“Cedar fever is the worst west of I-35, where you have primarily juniper mixed in with oaks and some other species,” said Jonathan Motsinger, Texas A&M Forest Service Central Texas Operations Department head. “And because all of those junipers are producing pollen at the same time, you’re going to get a higher concentration of pollen in the air.”

Cedar fever is an allergic reaction to pollen released by mountain cedar trees, which are extremely dense in central Texas.

According to Karl Flocke, a woodland ecologist for Texas A&M Forest Service, pollen from Ashe junipers isn’t particularly allergenic or harmful — it’s just so concentrated that even those not generally susceptible to allergies succumb.

“There are millions of junipers out there all releasing pollen at the same time,” he said. “You can’t help but breathe it in, and when you do, your body reacts as it would to any perceived threat — it tries to fight it.”

Most trees pollinate in the spring when people expect to suffer from allergy symptoms. Ragweed pollen and mold spores can contribute to allergies in the fall, but very few plants pollinate during the winter. Juniper trees are the exception and begin producing pollen in mid-December, often triggered by colder weather or the passage of a Texas cold front.

Pollen production peaks in mid-January before slowly tapering off in early March . . . just in time for oak pollen and other spring allergens.

“Immediately before and after a cold front it gets very dry and windy and the pressure changes very rapidly,” said Flocke. “This triggers the opening of pollen cones and the release of the pollen grains. When you see the pollen billowing off a tree that has just ‘popped,’ or opened its cones, it looks very similar to smoke coming from a wildfire.”

Cedar fever symptoms include fatigue, clear-and-runny mucus, sore throat, runny nose, partial loss of smell, and — sometimes — a slight fever.

There is no cure, aside from allergy medications and antihistamines, and the forest service does not recommend removing juniper trees from individual properties.

Their pollen is airborne and can blow for miles, Motsinger said. Also, only male juniper trees release pollen.

“The male trees have pollen cones, and the female trees have berry-like cones, which are very inconspicuous, but that’s what is pollenated from the male trees,” he said.

On the plus side, Motsinger said juniper berries can be used to make medicines and oils that treat a variety of ailments, from upset stomachs to snake bites. They also are high in nutrition and vitamins, providing a sustainable source of food for wildlife and soil enrichment.

Also, they grow in terrain that isn’t particularly hospitable to other species of tree.

For more information about how to identify Ashe junipers and/or eastern redcedars in your own backyard, check out the Texas A&M Forest Service’s Texas Tree ID webpage or the My Tree ID mobile app. You can also see the distribution of junipers across Texas via the forest service’s Forest Distribution App, which can identify the distribution of native tree species across the state of Texas.

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