We are in the middle of no one’s favorite season in the Hill Country of Texas, and that’s the “Cedar Fever” season. According to many news reports, this was supposed to be one of the worst seasons ever. If you’re reading from outside of Texas, you may be saying, “What the heck?”
Lots of people call the tree found all along our hills Mountain Cedar, but it’s really Ashe Juniper. I first noticed them, like many new residents, during my first winter in the area. I was walking my baby around the neighborhood, which was still under construction, looking at all the limestone and stuff, when the tree in front of me started to smoke! I said some version of, “What the heck,” and called my La Leche League co-Leader (the only native Texan I knew) to ask her what was up. “Ah, the cedar is pollinating,” she told me.
What is this plant? The Ashe Juniper has been around this area since before Europeans showed up, but it’s thought that they spread out of their native “cedar brakes” to take up more of the area once cattle showed up and messed with the delicate balance of native grasses and trees. Thanks, Euro-Americans.
The tree is usually not really big, but can grow pretty tall. Depending on its sex, it has brown blossoms and lot of berries/seeds. Lots. One of our fellow Master Naturalists summed it up quite succinctly:
There are separate male and female trees. From December to February the male trees turn golden brown with copious quantities of pollen, causing many locals to suffer from “cedar fever.”https://txmn.org/alamo/the-ashe-juniper/
Are they good or bad?
Like everything in this world, far as I’m concerned, there are positives and negatives to the Ashe juniper. It does provide habitat and food to many species, including the locally beloved golden cheeked warbler.
The common wisdom is that they “suck up all the water and are damaging our water supply” (that’s what I’ve always heard), but apparently it’s more nuanced than that. Some say they grow so thickly that they prevent rainwater from reaching the ground, while others say that any of their water hogging issues are made up from their function in stabilizing the soil.
Most of the recommendations I’ve seen have been to leave some of the trees as food sources, but use fire or cutting down of young trees to manage the spread into reconstructed prairies and pastureland. That seems to be what was going on around Kerrville, where the rangeland for the exotic animals was remarkably free of “cedars.”
I’m sorry so many of my friends suffer from allergies to Mountain Cedar’s really abundant pollen (it’s the most allergen-filled tree in the state!). Often new residents feel fine for a couple of winters, then find themselves suffering as time goes on. It’s like a rite of passage, “I finally got cedar fever!” is something I’ve actually heard.
I don’t get much pain this time of year, though my sinuses are a bit clogged. Many people get significant pain, congestion, and watery/itchy eyes. Oddly enough, you don’t get a fever from the pollen, other than maybe a one-degree rise when it’s really bad. Who knew?
There are some botanical drops and homeopathic treatments people use, and some folks just stay inside, but most people just take their regular allergy pills regularly and they survive to enjoy the mild winters around here (today it’s rainy and in the 30s, though).
If you are new to this tree, I hope you enjoyed learning something about it. Be sure to follow some of the links in this post to learn more. If you’ve been in this area a while, feel free to share more information and stories.