New leaves, fresh flowers and plenty of pollen

Soon our outdoors landscapes will come alive with a multitude of fresh colors as flowers bloom, leaves unfurl and a host of young plants sprout from the ground. This onslaught of growth and life also spurs on the unpleasantness of allergies in some as pollens are expelled into the air.

Pollen is produced by the male part of the flower, the anther. It is expelled to produce a young seed later in the season after it reaches the female ovule. Some trees contain both male and female parts; these trees are called monoaceous plants. Dioeceous plants have separate genders.

In most monoaceous plants, the male flower lies below the female flower. This may seem counterproductive since this arrangement would not be ideal for the pollen reaching the ovule on the same plant. But, this setup prevents self-fertilization and promotes diversity, which is more beneficial to the species as a whole.

Plants with inconspicuous flowers, like the maple, elm or ash, rely on wind pollination. Plants with large showy, fragrant flowers, like dogwood, crabapple and magnolia, are pollinated by insects or birds.

Trees are the first plants to produce pollen. Production can run from January to June in Maryland, depending on the weather. At its peak, pollen production causes sniffles and red eyes for those with allergies, along with sticky buildup on cars, outdoor furniture or anything else left outside beside a tree.

Dry windy days have the most pollen. Heavy rains can wash much of the pollen out of the air. The trees that cause most allergies include ash, box elder, sycamore, hickory and pine. Despite these drawbacks, pollen is an essential part of plant reproduction and life on our planet.

Golden trout

A favorite catch for many local anglers is the golden trout, also known as the palomino trout, large fish with notable fighting ability. The palomino trout is actually a form of the rainbow trout.

Photo by Justin Tellian

The first golden-colored rainbow trout was raised in a West Virginia fish hatchery in 1954. This trout was crossed with other rainbows, resulting in other golden-colored offspring. All the palomino trout found throughout the country are a byproduct of this offspring.

A different golden trout evolved in higher elevations the southern Sierra Nevada Mountains in California. This trout can be distinguished from the palomino trout by intense yellow, green, red and purple markings that cover its body, especially the bluish-purple "parr" markings on its flank, whereas the palomino trout is mostly a gold color. This trout was thought to be a separate species, but most taxonomists now classify this as a subspecies of the rainbow trout.

The golden trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss aguabonita) evolved in cold and clear streams on the Kern plateau in California at elevations of 8,000 to 12,000 feet above sea level. This very brightly colored fish attains a size of about 8 inches to 12 inches and grows to about 1 pound at maturity.

Early anglers were so impressed with this fish that they stocked it in other high elevation lakes and streams in California, Arizona and New Mexico. California adopted the golden trout as its state fish in 1947.

Populations of this native fish began declining due to the grazing of livestock and the stocking of non-native brook and brown trout throughout the watersheds. Livestock strippedthe habitat, and the non-native fish preyed upon and hybridized with the native golden trout.

Acknowledging the peril of this fish, the U.S. Forest Service dedicated 300,000 acres of prime habitat as the Golden Trout Wilderness area in 1978. Creating this sanctuary protects the trout from livestock grazing and other harmful activities. In addition, conservation groups are working to remove the non-native fish from these streams and reintroduce golden trout in other suitable locations. The net result is that golden trout numbers are increasing throughout their native range.

Nature Notes for 4/4/2010