Allergy Season Is Getting Worse And 'Botanical Sexism' Is To Blame

The sexist life of trees.
Allergy Season Is Getting Worse And 'Botanical Sexism' Is To Blame

From computer nerds claiming that women aren't biologically suited for high-stress jobs to engineers thinking they can court more young women by letting them hack hairdryers, it's no secret that the STEM world suffers from its share of sexism. But the last scientific field you'd suspect of sowing the field with sexism is botany, which turns out to be a real biological sausage fest.

The history of botanical sexism is the typical American success story: After an invasive plague of Dutch elm disease had wiped out nearly 60 million native trees in the '60s, pioneer city planners set out to repopulate the continent. But the U.S. Department of Agriculture had advised them that: "only male trees should be selected, to avoid the nuisance from the seed," a mindset that has pollinated not just the U.S. but many other countries. This has proven to be a very short-sighted move, especially since if the street tree world was female, these lonely gals wouldn't even produce seeds. And what they definitely wouldn't produce is pollen.

Just like with humans, tree sex expression is as fluid and sticky as maple syrup. Some trees come in two distinct sexes (dioecious) while others are bisexual, containing both genders in the same tree or even blossom (monoecious) -- and depending on the cultivation, they can switch. Whatever their construct, it's the male anatomy of trees that produce the pollen, those clouds of microscopic cum that cause so many allergy attacks. And according to botanist Tom Ogren, inventor of the Ogren Plant Allergy Scale (OPALS), it's specifically cis-male trees, the ones one every single American street, whose swimmers prove so very toxic for our delicate human noses and eyes. 

And because of all these urban and suburban man-groves, pollen count has drastically risen over the past 15 years -- these pollenpocalypse seasons now affecting hundreds of millions of hay fever and asthma sufferers. This is particularly bad in high-density population zones, as they produce more pollution, which latches onto pollen grains and shatters them into even more hyper-allergenic particles. Projections presume that, by 2025, half a billion people will seriously suffer from the aftershocks of these aggressive male trees.

Many botanical experts agree with Ogren's analysis of the threat of these MRA (Male Rubber tree Alliance) but draw the line at claiming there should be a Bechdel Test for birches. Not that they deny the existence of botanical sexism per se, simply that this is part of a broader issue when it comes to lack of diversity, which will always create long term issues both for the plants themselves and their surroundings. So the lesson here is: when planting trees, whose shade you will never sit in, better to choose the ones that will not teabag you.

For more allergy-inducing tangents, do follow Cedric on Twitter.

Top Image: cenczi/Pixabay

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