Monday, October 20, 2014

Botany picture #180, kind of: Populus alba

Just a few days ago my wife wondered about Floriade visitors who were so afraid of poplar (Populus alba, Salicaceae) seeds floating in the wind that they covered their faces while walking through. Yesterday she then discovered an article on the ABC website reporting that the seeds were wrongly blamed for hay fever which is, of course, in reality caused by pollen:
In parts of Canberra's inner south and the Australian National University's (ANU) campus the fluff can be so thick it looks like light snow.
But the head of Canberra pollen count at ANU, Simon Haberle, said the fluff was not actually springtime pollen.
"It is the seeds which are being blown around which you see and those seeds come in the form of fluff," he said.
"In reality it isn't pollen, so it is not associated with an allergic reaction."
This is news? This has to be said?

Not-pollen, as seen on my way to work today.

Now don't get me wrong. I am not trying to be the arrogant scientist here. In fact I would not expect the average non-botanist to actually know what pollen is. But here is the thing: the people who have hay fever? That is, the people who are allergic, and let me stress that, allergic against pollen?

Yes, those should kind of know what pollen is.

Still not pollen.

I mean, think about it. Imagine one of those hay fever-sufferers who are afraid of fluffy seeds meeting somebody who is allergic against bee stings but freaks out when they see a butterfly because they never bothered to find out what a bee looks like. They would see that as rather silly, right?

Or imagine them meeting somebody who is allergic against peanuts and then rejects an offer of lettuce because they think that is what peanuts are. Surely one would think them rather foolish for not learning the rather crucial detail of what precisely to avoid and what to consider safe. It is their allergy, after all; they should show some minimal level of interest, for the purpose of self-preservation if nothing else.

So why is it apparently considered perfectly normal for a pollen allergic to be entirely ignorant of what pollen actually is?

Those tiny yellow spots on my finger, however, are pollen grains.

(Also, why do people here, at least according to ABC, call a bog-standard poplar "the kapok or cotton tree"?)

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