This is definitely something to sneeze at.
New data from the U.S. Forest Service shows that “cedar fever” sufferers have 13.3 million enemies in Austin. That’s the estimated number of allergy-causing Ashe juniper, or “mountain cedar,” trees in Austin, according to a newly released tree inventory taken by the Forest Service. Put another way, the Ashe juniper makes up 39 percent of the estimated 33.8 million trees in Austin -- by far the biggest category of trees in the city.
“Ashe juniper is very well adapted to our environment and tolerates our wet and dry weather cycles, hot temperatures and occasional hard freezes,” says Paul Johnson, the Austin-based urban and community forestry coordinator at the Texas A&M Forest Service.
Johnson says the Ashe juniper is native to the Austin area and has thrived thanks to overgrazing by livestock along with fire control measures.
“Fire controlled the spread of Ashe juniper by killing young trees. Human intervention, to reduce the frequency of natural fire, has allowed Ashe juniper to spread and cover more ground,” Johnson says.
Although the Ashe juniper is a pollen factory, the tree does offer some benefits, according to Johnson. These include helping control stormwater, scrubbing pollution from the air and providing a habitat for wildlife, especially the endangered golden-cheeked warbler songbird.
Nonetheless, many residents of Austin despise the tree. KUT, the NPR affiliate in Austin, even has branded it the “most hated tree” in all of Texas. For thousands upon thousands of Austin allergy sufferers, the Ashe junipers is the ultimate nemesis, even though it’s “attractive” and “aromatic,” as Austin’s Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center describes it.
In Austin, cedar fever season typically lasts from mid-December through late February. It’s triggered by Ashe junipers pumping out clouds of pollen. Usually after a cold spell, the trees’ cones release the pollen, which most often is scattered by high winds, according to the wildflower center.
Symptoms of cedar fever include a runny nose, sneezing, itchy and watery eyes, and fatigue. “As ironic as it sounds, cedar fever does not actually produce a fever,” according to Texas MedClinic.