AH! SPRING. Season of … allergenic early-flowerers a.k.a hay fever-inducing plants. One culprit, though not a major one, is the Pappeln or poplar (scientific name Populus).
Sometime in Spring, this tree releases a ton of fluff made up of tiny seeds with tufts of long white hairs. Called Pappelflaum (poplar fluff), the seeds float like snowflakes in the air to eventually carpet the surrounds and any surface the wind directs them – the ground, bushes, water surfaces.
In poplar-filled Moscow, this is apparently quite a phenomenon, one they dub ‘summer snow’.
However, this fluff, produced by the female Pappeln, is not actually the hay fever culprit. Instead, it is pollen – produced by male trees – that is. Unfortunately, studies show that airborne Pappelflaum traps pollens from other species, so it does actually end up contributing to sneezy season.
But there is a solution to this allergen nightmare.
If Pappelflaum is harvested before it is released, i.e. when it is still in its seed pods, it makes excellent non-allergenic stuffing for duvets and winter jackets.
In fact, used with other materials, its proponents laud it as the world’s warmest plant fibre, besides being light, moisture-regulating and durable. (Respected German consumer magazine Öko-Test attests to this.)
Good news not only for hay fever sufferers but also the environment. Pappeln absorbs a ton of carbon dioxide, is hardy so it needs neither pesticides nor fertilizer and, as a riverine species, mitigates riverbank erosion and flooding.
Meanwhile, Berlin has a Pappeln species named after it. Called the Berlin poplar (Populus berolinensis), this is a very large tree that is a cross between two species. The German capital was apparently where it was first found in 1865.
The tree’s German name .. wait for it .. is the Berliner Lorbeerpyramidenpappel; Lorbeer being ‘laurel’ and pyramide being ‘pyramid’, after the characteristics of the two species that make up the cross. ω