We’ll excuse you for thinking it is snowing in June, by looking at the picture above. This photo was taken earlier this week in London, Ontario, but it’s not snow. Far from it. The white, fluffy down which looks like cotton drifting through the sky is in fact seeds from area trees. And for those of you who suffer from allergies, they might spell the need for a tissue.
Trees reproduce in a variety of ways. Some form new trees when a branch touches the ground and sets down roots. Other trees create new growth via underground root systems, like aspens. You can also start a new tree by cuttings or grafting as well. The most common way for trees to reproduce though is by seed dispersal. And those white puffs drifting on the breeze are the way that Salicaceae disperses its seeds.
Salicaceae is the willow family of trees and it includes willow, aspen, cottonwood, and poplar trees. These dioecious trees produce a cottony silk down which serves as a vessel for seeds. Female trees produce the fluff, which is then sent into the wind for seed dispersal and wind pollination.
For those of you who bemoan the presence of that white fluff as the cause of your allergies though, think again. You do not inhale those rather large bits of fluff into your nose or have them alight on your eyes. In actual fact, your allergies are caused by pollen, which is microscopic in size and not the same as the seeds. And while some people are allergic to cottonwood, willow or aspen trees, the pollen from these trees is far harder to spy.
Your best bet is to admire our short-lived summer snow, but stay away from the trees. And if you don’t want those seeds to germinate in your neck of the woods, get rid of them. The closer you are to your allergen, the worse your symptoms can be. As the dry fluff can easily soar on the wind for long distances, you might have a tough job on your hands, so make sure you wash them and any clothing you are wearing when you come in contact with it just for good measure.
Cheer up though. The allergy count in London today is fairly low. If your nose or eyes are bothering you, blame it on grasses or mold. And for those of you who aren’t allergic to trees, see if you can catch some of those fluffy seeds to help disperse them a little further. They really are a wonder to behold and pretty to see soaring through the sky…