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Similarities of Male Clonal Trees and COVID-19

What do male clonal tree species and COVID–19 have in common? 

Well, both cause respiratory difficulties, especially for those with chronic medical conditions. It’s the male plant species that produce large amounts of pollen which is detrimental to the millions of asthma, allergy and COPD sufferers worldwide. 

Depending on the time of year, pollen levels can reach staggering levels. For many decades, medical and environmental experts have studied this pollen tsunami every spring. Since each year’s plant growing season seems to be extended, pollen can be an ongoing hindrance for those with respiratory diseases. 

It wasn’t until Thomas Ogren, lecturer and author of the “Allergy Fighting Garden,” brought the consequences to our immediate attention did we fully understand the health impact of planting male clonal tree species and pollen. 

Decades ago, planting of equal 50 per cent male and 50 per cent female trees was the norm. This was a great ratio for biodiversity and our environment. The scale balance is now skewed, with mostly male pollen producing species planted. Why? Because we demanded clean – no fruits, seedpods, or flowers to litter our streets, parks, or public properties. We have traded our health for cleanliness.

Based on his research, he created OPALS® – Ogren Plant Allergy Scale. This is the numerical scale (1 – 10) that ranks each plant according to 130 possible factors, either positive or negative, to impact our health. 

Overall, he found that female species plants have no pollen, resulting in no impact to our health. In fact, female plants with large bright colour petals attract pollinating insects. Without these pollinators, our food sources would be severely limited.

Male plants are known to cause allergies with their abundance of pollen. People may experience skin rashes from contact with flowers, sap, or leaves. The result is a negative impact to our health. 

Pollen grains are produced in different sizes and in large quantities. It’s these grains with their strong fragrance that can trigger allergies. Any plant known to be wind-pollinated is susceptible. 

Overall,Thomas Ogren found that female species plants have no pollen, resulting in no impact to our health. In fact, female plants with large bright colour petals attract pollinating insects.

Q: If I want to purchase an allergy-friendly plant, shrub, or tree, what should I be looking for? 

A: Purchase plants with bright flowers, which are generally pollinated by insects or birds. Avoid wind-pollinated plants; these are the pollen-producing, asthma causing ones. Pollen from one individual plant is carried by air currents to another. Dandelions are an example of a wind-pollinated plant. 

Q: How do I tell the difference when I’m in my garden or at the garden centre, between a MALE or FEMALE shrub or tree? 

A: Male flowers will indeed have pollen, although male plants don’t produce pollen year-round. Keep in mind that pollen is not always bright yellow. It can also be white, grey, green, brown, red, and even purple. Female shrubs and trees typically have fruit (berries), seeds, and/or seedpods.

Male plants are known to cause allergies with their abundance of pollen. People may experience skin rashes from contact with flowers, sap, or leaves. The result is a negative impact to our health.

Research indicates the consequences of planting male, native, or non-native pollen-producing trees are:

      • Greater costs and overstraining of our medical resources by children and adults visiting doctor offices and emergency rooms with respiratory issues.
      • Decades ago, planting of equal 50 per cent male and 50 per cent female trees was the norm. This was a great ratio for biodiversity and our environment. The scale balance is now skewed, with mostly male pollen producing species planted. Why? Because we demanded clean – no fruits, seedpods, or flowers to litter our streets, parks, or public properties. We have traded our health for cleanliness.
      • The increase in CO2 matter in the atmosphere has caused pollen to be larger in size and volume. CO2 is the growth hormone to trees.
      • With urban planting, we reinvented the natural environment wheel, but without the necessary balance found in nature. We have forgotten how plants reproduce, and the simple fact that plants are male and female. In fact, we have developed other artificial methods of plant propagating that have their own issues. 

We can’t put all the blame on nature or the plants themselves for causing asthma, allergies, or COPD. Instead, we can help to create a more balanced natural environment by putting a stop to poor planning and planting in our gardens. Here are some facts:

      • The entire pollen season may last from March to October.
      • Tree pollen is most prevalent in early spring. Whereas, grasses produce pollen in spring and summer. Weeds and ragweed cause hay fever in late summer and fall. One ragweed plant can produce 1 billion pollen grains.

What about asthma and COVID-19? Some of the symptoms can appear similar: difficulty breathing and pneumonia forming in the lungs. In extreme cases, the coronavirus touches your lungs weakening your immune system. 

And this year, we have the COVID-19 pandemic, which can be a double dose for the millions of respiratory sufferers. Will there a second wave of the coronavirus this fall? We hope not, but the scientists predict we can expect one. Now is the time to be conscious of the plants we are adding to our gardens to give asthma sufferers a fighting chance of recovery.

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Peter Prakke

Peter Prakke is a horticultural consultant in Ancaster, Ontario. After emigrating from the Netherlands to Canada, Peter furthered his knowledge as a horticulturist to share his expertise in the horticultural industry. In 2014, Peter presented as a guest speaker at the Canadian Urban Forest Conference – London, Ontario his initiative on “A Plan for Cities to Combat Pollen Allergies and Asthma.” For six years, he conducted evening gardening classes, at Mohawk College, Hamilton, ranging from beginner to specific seasonal gardening topics. Peter is the recipient of the Garden Communicator Award for Canada from Landscape Ontario, Canada’s largest Horticultural Trade Association. For many years, he was a volunteer at McMaster University, Hamilton, working with cancer patients and challenged children through horticultural therapy. To honour our Canadian soldiers, Peter originated the Bravery Park™. The parks with allergy-friendly maple trees are a tribute to soldiers for their courage, bravery, and dedication to freedom. To improve schoolyards for children with allergies and asthma, Peter initiated the Allergy Friendly Schoolyard© for North America and Europe. In 2015, Peter submitted a Private Members Bill to the Ontario Government, called the Allergy Friendly Schoolyard Act, 2015. The goal is for no more male clonal, pollen producing – native or non-native, asthma causing shrubs and trees in the schoolyards in Ontario. Peter has served as board director of the non-profit group SAFE gardening, which offers a healthy alternative to the all-too-common highly allergenic landscapes. He is presently researching allergenic plants, shrubs and trees in ongoing collaboration with Thomas Ogren, American lecturer and author of the Allergy-Fighting Garden, and the Ogren Plant Allergy Scale OPALS®.

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