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Tree Sperm Choking Chicagoans

By JoshMogerman in News on Mar 25, 2012 8:00PM

Oak Trees in Bloom [colleenpence]
Are you suffering through headaches, congestion, runny nose and fatigue this week? Blame randy city trees choking you out with unusually vigorous reaction to spring fever. Yup, it's pollination season and you are reacting to tree sperm in the air…

Chicago’s crazy weather has laid bare a growing problem in North American cities—male trees. The hot streak this month has put trees and flowers into bloom much earlier than usual, setting off allergy season with it. Pollen, tree sperm cells covered in a hard shell to protect them as they float through the air, is the source of the respiratory difficulty and there are clouds of the stuff floating around us now.

And while we cannot lay this problem at their feet, the City’s arborists may have a share in the blame for the misery many Chicagoans are feeling. Because, like their counterparts across the country, they are kind of sexists:

Most North American cities, actually, plant more male bushes, trees and plants than their female counterparts. They do this because pollen-producing males don’t bear fruit or make seeds that drop on the ground the way females do.

The mess females create can clog drains and create sewage problems, cause people to slip and fall — the city would be liable for injuries — and attract wildlife and wasps.

The sexual imbalance makes for a cleaner-looking city, but it also creates a pollen-saturated environment, says California horticulturalist and author Thomas Ogren.

Last year, a report based on Google Earth data made clear that Chicago is part of that trend, with only a few fruit bearing trees anywhere to be found. All those dude trees are clogging the air with love, sending pollen counts well-above levels that signal air quality warnings, with dangerous conditions for people with respiratory problems. The Trib notes that several expert allergists have predicted the allergy season will be “longer and more severe than any in recent memory.”

Keep these issues in mind if you are doing any spring planting at home. And, try not to think about what you are choking on this summer…