Stuff You Should Know

If you've ever wanted to know about champagne, satanism, the Stonewall Uprising, chaos theory, LSD, El Nino, true crime and Rosa Parks, then look no further. Josh and Chuck have you covered.

Short Stuff: Pollen Count

Short Stuff: Pollen Count

Wed, 24 May 2023 09:00

If you watch the news and hear the pollen count is high for some particular type of plant then it’s high time you learned how they do that.

See for privacy information.

Listen to Episode

Copyright © 2023 iHeartPodcasts

Read Episode Transcript

Hi, I'm David Eagleman. I have a new podcast called Inner Cosmos on I Heart. I'm going to explore the relationship between our brains and our experiences by tackling unusual questions. Like, can we create new senses for humans? So join me weekly to uncover how your brain steers your behavior, your perception, and your reality. Listen to Inner Cosmos with David Eagleman. On the I Heart Radio app, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts. Hey and welcome to the short stuff. I'm Josh and there's Chuck and Jerry's here too, and guess who's lurking around with chains of doom rattling from him. That's Dave. He's here in spirit is what I'm trying to say. And that makes this short stuff. The Achu edition. Hold on the edition. That's me, man. As you know, I'm dealing with this for two plus months. Allergies that never used to get me are getting me now. My doctor said sometimes that happens. Yeah, you grew into him. That's fantastic. Oh, it's great. We did a very robust episode on pollen back in the day that was really popular because there are so many allergy sufferers in the world and I guess that listen to our show. But we want to thank House Stuff Works and a PhD here, Carrie Whitney for this article. But we're not talking about just pollen. We're talking about you hear pollen count all the time. And I never stop to think, like, is someone counting pollen? Like how did they even get that number? The answer is absolutely yes. And that nuts. It surprised me. We'll get to that. But just a little brush up on pollen. Paulin is the gamete fight, the sperm essentially of the plant. It comes from the anthors, which is the male part. And then it fertilizes the carpal, the female part. And pollen, I mean, especially you Chuck, I'm sure you see it everywhere because it's affecting you. You want to get away from it. Hold drifts of it. Just coat the cars in Georgia like seriously, everybody. If you have never really experienced pollen come to Georgia in the early to mid spring and you will be like, what is going on? And why do you people live here? It's yellow. Hots. Everything in these huge drifts. So you would think that you could see pollen, but it turns out an individual grain of pollen is in every case microscopic from 10 micrometers to 100 micrometers. Very, very small still. But they clump together, which is what produces those visible drifts of pollen. Yeah. And you know what the other thing that pollen does here. And this is the really annoying thing. Like it's annoying if you have allergies, obviously, but it will, if you don't like take care of your car or your deck or whatever, like it will bake into whatever it's on. Yeah. Definitely. Do you have some pressure washing to do? Well, I've been doing pressure washing, but I have to pressure wash like I don't drive my pickup truck. It's like a work truck. I don't drive it that much. So it sort of sits unused for weeks and sometimes a month at a time. And this thing every single year is just has caked on, baked on pollen that you can't wash off. You have to get a pressure washer on it. Plus that huge accumulation of pine straw that falls in between the hood and the wind shield where the windshield wipers are. You just get stuck. Let's just talk about this for a while. All right. So pollen gets places in a couple of ways as everybody knows. It can either go by way of insect or the stuff that's really bad for your allergies is the stuff that goes by the way of wind. Right. And it gets airborne. And this is the stuff that they're measuring. They're not going out and sampling a bunch of bees and counting up the pollen grains on their cute little furry fuzzy legs. They're trying to get to what's in the air because that's the pollen count that counts. Yeah, exactly. Usually it's from less showy plants because they don't need to attract bees or birds or whatever. It's like grasses, trees, just you know stuff that goes kind of unsung weeds. But they blow through the air and that's where it gets into your mucous membranes and makes you sneeze a lot. And one of the things that you have to know how to do if you're counting pollen is to know what each different type of pollen looks like. Green. That's what I was after. Yeah. Oh, okay. Yeah. So yeah, because when you watch the news, they'll say like pollen counts as I right. And if they really know what they're doing, they'll say, you know, look out today for ragweed or something like that. Exactly. And I say we take a little break and we'll get into just precisely how they do that right after this. Let's do it. Well, now we're on the road driving in your truck. Why not learn a thing or two from Josh and Chuck. It's stuff you should know. All right. Hey, Mario Lopez here. And let's be real. We all know that SUVs are what's in right now. And if you go with the Toyota, you got a ton of options to choose from like a RAV4, the perfect versatile SUV for riding around in style comes in a bunch of cool colors in his super fuel efficient. It'll make you the talk of the town or if you want a little luxury and comfort, there's the venza with features like a panoramic sunroof heated and ventilated front seats. You'll feel like you're riding on a cloud and it's available in hybrid and all-wheel drive. Awesome. And if you need a little more space, you got the Highlander, which can fit up to eight people. So it's perfect for family road trips. It also has all types of available features for both passengers and the driver. It's a great ride. So there you have it folks. Toyota SUVs are the way to go. They are one of the most reliable brands around. You really can't go wrong. So stop by our local Toyota dealer or check out more at and let's go places. Hi, I'm David Eagleman. I have a new podcast called Inner Cosmos on I Heart. I'm a neuroscientist and an author at Stanford University and I've spent my career exploring the three-pound universe in our heads. On my new podcast, I'm going to explore the relationship between our brains and our experiences by tackling unusual questions so we can better understand our lives and our realities. Like, does time really run in slow motion when you're in a car accident? Or can we create new senses for humans? Or what does dreaming have to do with the rotation of the planet? So join me weekly to uncover how your brain steers your behavior, your perception, and your reality. Listen to Inner Cosmos with David Eagleman on the I Heart Radio app, Apple podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts. Okay, Chuck. So we were talking about people actually counting pollen and that pollen grains are microscopic, but that they all have kind of a different morphology, a different shape. And if you put all those things together, you get pollen count. That's right. Specifically, a pollen count is the number of pollen grains in a cubic meter of air over one day, over a 24-hour period. And I guess Carrie got in touch with someone when this article was written from Atlanta because one Katie Walls was interviewed, a meteorologist. And I believe she was certified from the Atlanta allergy and asthma. Well, I was going to say association, it seems like an association, that's it. From Atlanta, allergy and asthma, to be able to do this. And as we'll see, there are other ways you can get accredited through the National Allergy Bureau or the American Academy of Allergy, asthma, and immunology to be like a certified, hey, they know what they're doing, pollen counter. So, what Katie Walls, the meteorologist explained is that in that cubic meter of air that they're sampling over a 24-hour period, they're actually like attracting pollen in a number of different ways. There's a couple of different instruments that you can use. And each one is called the volumetric air sampling instrument. So there's a known measure of air, again, a cubic meter of air is typically what it what sampled. And again, it's usually over 24 hours. And there's two types, like I was saying, ones are rotating arm impactor. And the second is a herst type spore trap. And they both are exactly what they sound like. Yeah, we have some brand names here. We're happy to buzz market. The rotating arm sampler, I'm sorry, impactor, it seems like the most common one is the roda ride. And then of the herst variety, the burr card sampler. And I look both these up as I'm sure you did. But if you look at a picture, the roda ride looks like just a little spinny contraption on a big tripod. The burr card looks to me like a little bit like a camp stove or something. And they operate, or at least the first one, the roda ride is fairly intuitive. It does rotate. It starts spinning around really fast, about 2400 revolutions per minute. And these two little grease rods drop down. And they literally just capture pollen. Those little grease rods pick up these pollen spores. And then those rods are placed in a microscope adapter. And then they look at those and they get their pollen count. Right. That's one way. The other way, the herst type, that the burr card is an example of, it actually sucks in air over 24 hours. And in that air, it sucks in all the particles too. And rather than a greased rod, they have a greased microscope slide. And so that the pollen and the spores are attracted to that microscope slide. And then what's neat is the slide moves inward at a specific rate, two millimeters an hour. So you can actually see hour by hour, which pollen was highest at what time. And like you said, in exactly the same way, they put it under a microscope and they study it. And the people that study it are called actual paleonologists. Paleonologist studies pollen and actual paleonologist studies live pollen. They're the ones who actually do the pollen count. And they actually count the pollen spores in their sample. Yeah. So if you like me thought that a pollen count was just some like random sample or like a statistical analysis of what it's usually like or just somebody making up a number, none of that is true. It is an actual count depending on where you are. And what resources you have, it's going to work a little differently. Sometimes they collect this stuff every day for a year. Sometimes they just do it on weekdays. Sometimes it's a couple of days a week. Sometimes it's the county health department doing it. Sometimes it's an allergist that maybe is contracted by the new station. So it really depends on where you are and probably get like how big of a city. And maybe how much pollen you have in general as to how this goes down. Yeah. I could see a city government having to be fairly flush to invest in a pollen counting station. You think how much are they? I don't know. I think it's more of a show off thing than anything. You know what I mean? Like you want to show off, you want to show up Shelbyville so you get your pollen counting station. Yeah, I got you. And then Chuck, we talked about how the volume of air is usually about a cubic meter, right? Yeah. So that's three feet by three feet by three feet roughly. And if you just kind of make that shape around yourself, it's not that big. And what they're saying is if there's like a three, like we're at 3,000 level, which is extremely high, there are 3,000 grains of pollen in that cubic meter over the course of 24 hours or at any given point in that 24 hours, which means that you're sucking all that in. So it really kind of drives home like what those numbers mean. I mean, yeah, 3,000 sounds way higher than say 200 or 50 or whatever. But when you put it in that perspective, it's almost, it almost makes you choke. Yeah. I wonder if any place places these in different places to compare those numbers. Probably like a really rich city. Like I mean, it would, I mean, maybe it's a little acidic city, maybe. But it would, it would seem to make sense that there's more pollen, you know, on the edge of a forest than there would be, you know, in the mall parking lot, right? Sure. You'd think so. It's airborne, but I don't know. No, no, it definitely would because it's going to spread out from that forest. You know, so yeah, it would be denser there. I wonder where they put these things in. I don't know, but you're probably not getting, you're not getting an accurate count when you put it right at the edge of a forest. But also you're making way more work for yourself too, because you got to count all that, buddy. That's right. You got to get to that forest. So there's a couple of other things that this House of Works article included about pollen that I found gratifying with. They were saying like, yes, pollen makes you sneeze and it can give you terrible allergies, but it's also useful in other ways. And the actual palinologists, they study live pollen. But there's other kinds of palinologists that study fossilized pollen, or they use it for crime fighting. Yeah, because if that could be your alibi, if there's pollen on the scene and they say that you were there, you know, like that's not my pollen, because my pollen is ragweed and that pollen is some other kind of weed. Yeah, hickory. That could get you out of a murder rap. Totally. That's forensic palinology. And then just regular palinologists are the ones that study fossil pollen. And you can do everything from figure out what plants, ancient societies worked with to what the climate of like an incredibly old spot on earth was just by finding pollen grades. And the reason why is because when a plant evolves its pollen morphology, it doesn't change. Even over millions of millions of years. So if you found a piece of ragweed pollen fossilized and you know, a strata that's 60 million years old, you know that there was actually ragweed growing there because it matches the ragweed morphology today. That's right. You got anything else? I've got nothing else. Just, just, not he knows. Okay, well good luck with that Chuck. And since I wish Chuck good luck, sure stuff is out. Stuff you should know is a production of iHeartRadio. For more podcasts, my heart radio, visit the iHeartRadio app. Apple podcasts are wherever you listen to your favorite shows.