News

Is it pollution? Or is it pollen?

Education, Environmental, Neuse River Watershed, Sound Rivers, Tar-Pamlico Watershed

Posted on March 21st, 2024

It happens every year in eastern North Carolina: the weather warms, plants start to bloom, and fine, yellow pine pollen coats every surface imaginable — including our waterways.

If you see swaths of yellow muck on the river, on the shorelines, on the creeks and more, there’s no need to be alarmed. It’s pine pollen.

According to the Assateague Island National Seashore Facebook page, pine pollen is unique. In “pollen speak,” it’s considered large (60-100 micrometers in size compared to other pollen grains, which are mostly approximately 10 micrometers) and as such, should be too heavy to travel through the air.

This is where it gets interesting: to compensate for its large size, pine pollen has two air capsules attached to either side of the pollen grain itself; if you were to look at pine pollen under a microscope, it would look like a Mickey Mouse head with the ears being the capsules. The air capsules reduce the weight of the pollen grain and make it easier to travel though the air. When the pine pollen settles out of the air and onto the water, the same air capsules make the pollen grains buoyant, so they float on the water. As the wind blows toward shore, the grains are pushed into one another and creates what appears to be a latex paint like mass along the shoreline.

Right now, that yucky stuff in the water isn’t pollution. It’s just pollen.

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