The real Grinch this holiday season in Central Texas could be cedar fever

The Hill Country features millions of acres of Ashe juniper trees, the trigger of cedar fever.

The Hill Country features millions of acres of Ashe juniper trees, the trigger of cedar fever.

The joys of the holiday season can take a back seat to cedar fever if you did not plan ahead for the annual release of pollen now airborne in Central Texas.

Many area residents suffer through cold-type symptoms or worse off-and-on from December through February.

“Many new Texans are finding Christmas on their backs,” said Jim Rooni, head of Central Texas Operations for the Texas A&M Forest Service. “It’s the Ashe juniper, or juniperus ashei, and it’s debilitating.”

Rooni said there are plenty of misconceptions about the tree, including that it is a cedar tree. It is a drought-tolerant evergreen that has spread because of development in the Edwards Plateau, which includes the Hill Country.

According to Rooni, the female trees have berries and cones, while the male trees cause the airborne mess with pollen. The trees are not an invasive species.

“They are native trees in this region,” Rooni said. “We have 10 million acres of them in central and west Texas.”

Rooni said fires—controlled burns by ranchers and wildfires—reset the onslaught of Ashe junipers taking over the landscape. Development has cut down on the ability to conduct controlled burns. Rooni said a large expense for ranchers is managing the nuisance species, and while homeowners can trim them back, they are in a losing battle to rid the area of the Ashe juniper trees.

Health issues for many

As juniper counts rise, TV meteorologists including KTBC Fox 7 Austin’s Scott Fisher report the numbers on each newscast on the website. On Monday morning, the count was in the “very high” category according to the station’s website.

“It has been a super wet fall and absolutely everything points to a rough season,” Fisher said, admitting he has awful allergies, but the Ashe juniper isn’t one of them.

Fisher said as with most things weather related, he’ll take some blame for cedar fever, too.

“If it’s cold outside or the water is slow in the Comal River, I take heat for it. But I can take it. I can sympathize with people and their allergies. It’s not fun.”

Those new to Texas may not experience this round of cedar fever, according to medical professionals.

“The first year here is usually a honeymoon,” said Rhiannon Ringo, an allergy and immunology physician assistant at Baylor Scott & White in Round Rock. “After that, a lot of people suffer the symptoms of cedar fever, which can lead to other infections.”

For those sensitive to pollen, Ringo suggested planning indoor activities on windy days, when pollen travels up to 100 miles. She said there are several over-the-counter antihistamines and medications available that can help combat the symptoms. She also said saline nasal sprays and drops are typically helpful.

“It’s hard to work back from not feeling well,” Ringo said. “And it’s hard to tell if it’s an allergy or if you’re getting sick.”

After the first bout, Ringo suggests setting an appointment with a board-certified allergist to figure out the best line of attack going forward.

“Whether it is medicine or teaching your immune system not to respond through therapy, a doctor will help find what is right for the patient,” Ringo said. “It’s hard for your body to deal with multiple issues at the same time, but we have to go outside at some point.”

 

Not all bad

While the Ashe juniper may wreak havoc on our immune system, many receive help they need through their doctor, while others build a tolerance.

Rooni, who came to Texas 25 years ago from Wisconsin, said as a forester he does not have the option of staying indoors. He said his system has adjusted and the effects of cedar fever are minimal. Rooni also said the juniper has some positive effects on the ecosystem.

“Birds and critters have used it successfully for habitat,” Rooni said. “It’s also good protecting against erosion in this area. The one issue we have is when there are thick canopies, they actually keep water from ever reaching the soil. They take only so much water and then it evaporates without ever reaching the ground.”

Just another knock against the indigenous fiend.

A website often pointed to online, www.pollen.com, listed Austin as fourth worst in the United States for several days in early December. The top 5 were all Texas cities, with the top culprit being the Ashe juniper.

“It’s a much-maligned species for several reasons,” Rooni said. “And it’s here to stay. People need to drop the chainsaw and alleviate the symptoms.”
By Brian Rash
Brian has been a reporter and editor since 2012. He wrote about the music scene in Dallas-Fort Worth before becoming managing editor for the Graham Leader in Graham, Texas, in 2013. He relocated to Austin, Texas, in 2015 to work for Gatehouse Media's large design hub. He became the editor for the Lake Travis-Westlake publication of Community Impact in August 2018.


MOST RECENT

Wondering about the road work happening on Hinman Island Drive? See more about the project here. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Hinman Island Drive to be closed in New Braunfels until April 30

Beginning Nov. 30, portions of Elizabeth Avenue and Hinman Island Drive between Landa Park Drive and Liberty Street will be closed until April 30.

Comal County reported 170 new coronavirus cases between Nov. 23-29. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Comal County adds 170 new coronavirus cases during Thanksgiving week

Between Nov. 23-29, Comal County reported 170 new confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases and three new deaths.

The establishment bills itself as family-friendly and has several items available for brunch, including the Maple Bacon Donut Mountain. (Courtesy Voodoo Wine and Coffee Bar)
Voodoo Wine and Coffee Bar now open in New Braunfels area

The establishment bills itself as family-friendly and has several items available for brunch, including the Maple Bacon Donut Mountain.

Harini Logan, 10, won the 66th annual Express-News Spelling Bee at the University of Texas at San Antonio downtown campus on March 17, 2019. For 2021, the event is slated to be held in March at the Brauntex Performing Arts Theatre in New Braunfels. (Photo by Jerry Lara, courtesy the San Antonio Express News)
New Braunfels to host regional spelling bee and more Central Texas news

Read the latest business and community news from Central Texas.

Harini Logan, 10, won the 66th annual Express-News Spelling Bee at the University of Texas at San Antonio downtown campus on March 17, 2019. For 2021, the event is slated to be held in March at the Brauntex Performing Arts Theatre in New Braunfels. (Photo by Jerry Lara, courtesy the San Antonio Express News)
Still in need of sponsors, New Braunfels venue to host prestigious regional spelling bee in March

The Brauntex Performing Arts Theatre in New Braunfels will host the regional spelling bee March 27. The event will see participation from students in Comal and 17 adjacent counties, according to a press release from the Brauntex Theatre.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced a COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan for the state Nov. 23 for a vaccine he said could be available as soon as December. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announces COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan

The vaccine could start being distributed "as early as next month," according to a Nov. 23 news release.

The Jaws Skate Park could soon allow BMX riders to utilize the facilities. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
BMX riders could receive access to Jaws Skate Park in New Braunfels

During the Nov. 23 New Braunfels City Council meeting, city officials approved the first reading of an ordinance to amend skate park rules at the Jaws Skate Park.

In observance of Thanksgiving on Nov. 26, some city of New Braunfels facilities will close or have adjusted hours. (Ian Pribanic/Community Impact Newspaper)
New Braunfels announces Thanksgiving holiday closures

In observance of Thanksgiving on Nov. 26, some city of New Braunfels facilities will close or have adjusted hours.

Between Nov. 16-23, Comal County reported 265 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 and one new death.. (Community Impact staff)
Comal County adds 265 new coronavirus cases since Nov. 16, 401 active

Between Nov. 16-23, Comal County reported 265 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 and one new death.

P. Terry’s Burger Stand is expected to open its long-awaited Pflugerville location this January. (Courtesy P. Terry's Burger Stand)
P. Terry's to open in Pflugerville in January and more Central Texas news

Read the latest Central Texas business and community news.

Stave Beer and Wine House, located at 540 S. Castell Ave., New Braunfels, celebrated its first anniversary Nov. 14. (Courtesy Stave Beer and Wine House)
Surviving the pandemic: Here are five New Braunfels businesses that recently celebrated their first anniversary

Here are five New Braunfels businesses that have recently celebrated one year in business, either outright or at a new location.

Laura Colangelo
Q&A: Laura Colangelo discusses challenges facing private schools during pandemic

Colangelo said private schools have adapted to remote learning and other obstacles in 2020 despite less revenue and a 9% decline in enrollment statewide.