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Pollen from Mulberry Trees cover UNLV's campus every spring. (Photos by Kerry Callahan)
Pollen from Mulberry Trees cover UNLV's campus every spring. (Photos by Kerry Callahan)

Painted With Pollen

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High pollen counts are painting Las Vegas from top to bottom. The yellow, sticky pollen line the sidewalks, cover the cars, and permeate the Southern Nevada air at the expense of residents’ lungs.

Springtime pollen counts are nearly record-breaking in 2015, while around 35 to 40 percent of the population in Southern Nevada suffer from allergies and are directly affected by the highly concentrated pollen counts. The 
UNLV Pollen Monitoring program helps locals find out what plants might be triggering allergy flares.

Southern Nevada has certain factors that intensify allergy season for many residents.

“The problem with allergies is that we have the wind that carries all these pollens, and we also don’t have a lot of rain,” said Tanviben Patel, CCSD/UNLV pollen monitoring program supervisor.

The wind intensifies the suffering by blowing the highly concentrated allergens through the air. The air remains polluted with allergens until rain cleanses it.

Allergy sufferers can also blame the shorter winters for the prolonged suffering in the spring season. “People are starting to see their symptoms rise and start earlier than expected,” Patel said.

The spring season this year started in the middle of February, instead of March like it usually does. The plants bloom once the weather warms up and they will not stop, even if the weather chills again.

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The mulberry tree is a notorious problem plant in Southern Nevada and blooms during the spring season.

Residents planted an abundance of mulberry trees in the 1970s when Las Vegas was first urbanizing.

Mulberry trees are resistant to the heat and do not require much water. The trees worked perfectly with the climate in Southern Nevada, until it was discovered how many respiratory issues they cause.

“There are hundreds and maybe thousands of them in the valley,” Patel said. “They were perfect for giving you that green shady feel without adding to the water shortage we have here.”

Mulberry trees thrive in the dry environment.

“They didn’t realize that the trees gave everybody such problems,” Patel said. “People originally came here many years ago from the northeast and the Midwest to avoid the plants that caused their allergies,” said Dennis Bazylinkski, Director and Professor in the School of Life Sciences.

Although people moved to Las Vegas to escape allergies, many brought over the same allergy-causing plants to make the desert more appealing.

“I would like to see the public become more aware of the problem,” Bazylinkski said. “People should think more about what plants that they have in their yard, and which ones aren’t going to bother themselves and other people.”

Nevada banned planting new mulberry and olive trees after 1991, to try to combat some of the respiratory issues that people in Southern Nevada have.

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Typically, mulberry and olive trees are only found in the older sides of Las Vegas, so spring allergy sufferers should try their best to avoid these highly concentrated parts of town.

A lot of UNLV students and faculty will have allergy problems walking to class because of all the mulberry, olive, and pine trees that are planted on campus.

“It’s hard for me to breath when I’m on campus,” said Sarah Martinez, freshman at UNLV. “My allergies are terrible during the spring.”

“I love how UNLV has a variety of trees and plants on campus, but they all just give me a headache during the spring,” Martinez said. “Thankfully I don’t have as much as a problem over by my house in Summerlin.

The pollen monitoring program is currently trying to get more stations set up throughout the valley so they can have better ideas of what plants trigger allergies in different parts of town.

Additionally, allergy sufferers can make sure they do not have plants that emit allergens in their yard. There is plenty of research in new medicines and techniques to help allergy sufferers, but some might find non-medical preventatives more useful.

“Get an air purifier, close your windows, and wash your hair and clothes when you get home because the pollen will stick to you throughout the day,” Patel said.

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