Common reed, Phragmites australis (reed), is a very tall grass that spread greatly to
occupy large areas near many eastern North American cities over the past century. Its
aerially dispersed pollen is known to incite allergic reactions, and possibly asthma, in
some persons, but is not distinguished from that of any other grass in routine pollen
monitoring. We hypothesize that this regional expansion by reed has increased late-season
exposure to grass-pollen allergens in parts of these metropolitan areas. The
information available indicates that reed's geographic location, high abundance, small
pollen size, release of pollen relatively far above ground, substantial pollen
productivity, pollen allergen composition, and late season of pollen release all point to
its potential importance for a large number of persons whose health may be degraded
by grass pollen. If the other common late-flowering grasses in the same area have
larger pollen grains, it may be possible to visually distinguish reed pollen captured by
monitoring devices. If not, ratios of stable isotopes of carbon in the pollen may permit
differentiation. Otherwise, analytical techniques based on molecular differences need
further development in order to estimate local population exposure to allergens from
reed. Some 90 million North Americans may live close enough to large tracts of reed to
be exposed to substantial concentrations of its pollen, so much more attention to this
situation seems warranted. If reed pollen were found to be a health hazard for a
particular metropolitan area, removal of the pollen sources may be more feasible than is
the case for many other species.
Schimpf, David J.; White, Natalie A..
Did Cryptic Invasion of North America by Common Reed Change Exposure to Pollen Allergens?.
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