From the ABC 7 Weather team

D.C. Pollen Count: Smut spores a dry air allergen and delicacy

May 1, 2013 - 04:30 AM
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Tree pollen is down put molds spores will peek soon, including the funny sounding smut spore

This damp and dreary spate of weather has its benefits, and that is the fact that tree pollen is down! But it’s not just the trees that pollen experts monitor, as they also look at grasses, weeds and mold and one of our most unique named offenders: the smut spore!

Smut spores are a group of over 1200 species of serious pathogens on crops including grass and grain fields. According to Susan E Kosisky, BS, MHA Chief Microbiologist at the US Army Centralized Allergen Extract Lab it surges twice each year in the local area, both in the spring and in the fall. The early peak begins in April and then reemerges once again with a more dramatic rise in autumn especially in mid-October (60 spores/cubic meter of air for the daily average) with the decaying vegetation.

Locally it impacts cane crops like corn as well as on Bermuda grass and Johnson grass.

It’s termed “smut fungi” because they produce a mass of dark, mucus-like or rather gelatinous balls on the plants. Inside the ball are powdery spores that are most often released when the mass dries out, thus making it a dry day spore. (Many of us, including myself, often and mistakenly think of mold in regards to moist environments which smut is not.) The spores that are released can lead to respiratory issues and can be treated with allergy shots.

The term smut comes from the German word which means “dirty”. There are different types of smut including STINKING SMUT and LOOSE SMUT! Stinking is fairly obvious, while loose smut describes the characteristic symptoms of the diseased heads of grain. The kernels and glumes (chaff) are converted into black fungal spores which blow away, desecrating crops. In fact some farming areas that are unable to properly treat or prevent the pathogen on crops are sometimes driven to have to destroy entire crops.

However, it is not a total loss. In parts of Mexico huitlacoche, a certain smut that forms on the corn crops, is actually a delicacy and is usually sold at a cost higher than that of uninfected corn! Eaten before it has time to dry out the smut if often wrapped up in local favorites like tacos and quesadillas in a tradition dating back to the Native Americans.

Courtesy University of Minnesota

And more recent studies show some health benefits of eating the fungi as the smut actually takes on some of the health characteristics of the actual vegetable! So I guess it can be said that some smut may not be that bad for you!

 

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