Beijing, 1 May 2013
These last few days we have been suffering from an unpleasant side-effect of Spring: airborne white fluff, which trees around here are shedding in huge quantities in their eagerness to mate and to seed. The fluff drifts down, floats along on the breeze, is whirled about by passing cars, eddies in big clumps around your feet, and – most disagreeably – gets into your eyes, nose and mouth. Yesterday morning, it was so thick that looking up into the sky it seemed to be snowing.
while a few days ago currents in the canal and wind interacted to create a thick layer of fluff along the far bank.
This is the offending tree, photographed in a quiet side street
a poplar, a member of the aptly-named cottonwoods, whose more mature specimens carry these very distinctive diamond shapes on their lower bark.
And this is where the fluff is from:
I first became aware of this tree in Vienna, not so much because of white fluff flying around, of which there was a fair amount at this time of the year, but because of some really magnificent specimens growing in the gardens of the posher, greener parts of town. So posh and so exclusive that I have found no photos on the web.
But actually, where the tree really came into its own was down by the Danube, in the last vestiges of the river’s wetlands which land use planners and river engineers of the 19th Century had left alone.
Not surprising, really. The tree loves a wet, marshy soil. Which explains why there are so many poplars around Milan and in the Po River plain generally, which is a pretty soggy place. And in Milan, the problem of flying white fluff was truly awful. These pictures are not from Milan but are from that part of the country and give a good sense of the horror of it.
It’s the poplar’s love of wet soil that makes me wonder what it’s doing here in Beijing. I mean, this city is semi-desertic; lack of water is a constant and growing problem. Yet, there are huge plantations of the tree around the city, part of the reforestation campaigns that the government is so fond of as a way of minimizing the dust storms to which this city is periodically subject. Wise policies no doubt, but surely they could have found a more suitable tree?
pix of sky, canal, and poplar tree: mine
Fluff on tree: http://www.naturamediterraneo.com/Public/data7/ciuppy/5.jpg_200941622240_5.jpg
Poplars on the Danube: http://www.quax.at/sites/default/files/images/nationalpark_donau_auen_976_Donauufer2_Baumgartner.jpg