OR The Oaks are Covered in Flowers but All We See is Pollen.
I often tell people not to worry about allergies if they see flowers. If even distracted humans take notice, a flower’s sweet scents or bright colors are definitely conspicuous to the pollinator the blooms are actually trying to attract. With their targeted aid, these beauties need to produce a lot less pollen. And they don’t want what they do produce getting tossed around and lost by the breeze. So their pollen is more likely to stay on the plant and less likely to end up in your nose.
It’s the flowers we don’t notice that fill the air with pollen. Many trees rely on the errant winds of spring to carry their pollen from stamen to pistil, from male to female flower. Most of us have probably never seen the female flowers of wind pollinated trees, or even known to look for them.
And few of us have consciously thought of the dangling catkins on oak trees as strands of flowers. Flowers with few or tiny petals. Flowers the same greeny-yellowy-browns as their trees. Merely functional flowers. But they have a subtle beauty of their own and deserve a closer look. Trees are worth seeing. Don’t be put off by my poor quality pics, go and look for yourself! This week oak, beech, birch, sweetgum, hackberry, and more are all in bloom.
All the pollen they produce is good for more than just making you sneeze. Pollen is rich in protein, and is a staple food of many insects – most significantly to us, it is the required food for larval bees. And, secondly, “The Reason for a Flower is to make a seed”. How many male flowers must spend their pollen in the wind for fertilization of one female flower to occur? How many acorns must mature and fall for a chance of seedling taking root? How many seedlings must start growing for the sky for a mature oak to stand?
One in hundred pollen grains? One in a hundred thousand? And so to have any chance at all, at the beginning of the chain that leads to an oak tree, the air must be filled with the golden pollen of trees.
PS. I just went on a hunt for seedling trees in our woods. I found many cherries (distasteful to deer) and some tulip poplar (one of our most common trees, and the seed itself is less often eaten). I found two oak seedlings in five minutes of searching.