For a few days in April the yellow pollen of our neighborhood trees covered my porch, barbecue grill, and outdoor table. They activated allergies of friend and foe alike, and crtainly caused increased sales of over the counter antihistamines at local drugstores. Local folklore, probably based in fact, has it that more kinds of pollen occur here in the Tennessee Valley than anywhere else in the world, except for some unnamed valley in China. I heard the same statement about Cincinnati when I was a child there.
Meanwhile, I noticed an accumulation of catkins in the bed of my pickup truck.
Catkins cover land
Yellow dust lies everywhere
Fertile acorns grow
These particular catkins were the male flowers of an oak tree, but several species of trees have this type of flower. The cylindrical structures indeed cover the land. I have heard them referred to as "wormy looking," though the name is said to be derived from their hairy covering and resemblance to a kitten’s tail. Land owners and landscaping companies spend hours raking them up and moving them to more expendable parts of the landscape.
Catkins may hold male or female flowers, but unlike the illustrations in schoolroom science books, they never contain both male and female reproductive structures (anthers and style). The catkins on oak trees hold only male flowers. Female flower parts appear in separate, individual flowers.
I see the falling catkins as I see many recurring natural events. They indicate that life continues. The seasons continue to change, the earth produces its bounty, and I greet the rising sun with exercises which keep my heart pumping and my joints limber. As my Tai Ji instructor puts it, “we keep moving so we can keep moving.”
Flowers fall from oak
Warm sun passes equinox
House wren sings from branch