It's that beautifully hard time in Texas where I want to be outside in this gorgeous weather so bad, but if I do, I suffer all night long (& beyond) from Cedar Fever. It's torture really. I hate these trees and wish they would all just go away. So what do I do to combat this (besides the dozen remedies I take daily)? I wonder and learn.
They are not cedar trees, they're actually Ashe Juniper. And every year at this time, I wonder about their history and their benefits, because they surely have none. They're native, but were not nearly as widespread as they are now until cattle grazed all the grasses that competed with Juniper for space, and until fire was suppressed so much (fire killed the juniper, but not the grasses) that they began to spread into all of the now eroded and rocky areas where they thrive best. 100 years later, and they cover the hill country like a blanket; a blanket covered in yellow pollen December through February.
So now I know a little history. Does this horrible plant have ANY benefits to the ecosystem? Well, it's an evergreen, which is comforting in the winter, and it's drought tolerant, which is helpful. As a tree, it provides shade, which provides more moisture for other small plants underneath it that are trying to grow. Both male and female trees form the helpful blue berry-like cones that feed wildlife and give some excitement to homemade remedies. I made juniper gin as gifts one Christmas, and there are a ton of other recipes you can find online, like these. Native groups use the berries in their medicine, and its leaves are burned in their rituals as a blessing, just like sage is used to clear a space. Many people use the trees bark for fires, and rot-resistant wood for tools and construction. Today we see many fenceposts and furniture made from cedar. The scent is also said to repel some insects, though other insects lay their eggs in the tree and feed off its nectar. There is an endangered bird called the Golden Cheeked Warbler that uses the "furry" bark to make its nests, and this area is its only known breeding area.
If you suffer from allergies like I do this time of year, learning these things helps me appreciate this (horrible) tree a little more, and helps relax my fear and anxiety around what its pollen triggers in my body. In nature and in life, when you find yourself afraid of a plant or animal, or just having a strong dislike for it, use a little wonder to learn about it. I guarantee that your wonder and curiosity will lead to more knowledge, which will soften your fear and loathing of it.
Some other examples I've studied recently with my students at school are paper wasps (who ruin our outdoor picnics), and mistletoe, which covers the trees on our playground. Mistletoe is another fascinating plant that has people both loving it and hating it. If you want to learn more about this semi-parasitic plant, check out this article or listen to the Stories Podcast for some fun Norse mythology of this plant.
Leave a Reply.
Ms. Jennie is an outdoor educator in Austin, TX. She has a background in Montessori education, and strives to get families and kids out in nature to connect & wonder.