19 October 2020

What's all the fluff about?

| Dominic Giannini
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Poplar fluff

What is the fluff in Canberra? Photo: Supplied.

Have you been walking around lately and noticed a cotton-like fluff?

It’s not exactly snowing over Manuka Oval again, so what is the fluff? And can it set off hayfever?

The good news is – like wattle – it doesn’t cause hayfever, according to ANU’s resident tree expert, Dr Matthew Brookhouse, “however, poplar fluff has been reported to impact upon people with respiratory difficulties such as asthma”.

“The reality is that the production of fluff coincides with springtime pollen production,” he said.

The fluff primarily comes from silver poplar trees but is also produced by willows and comprises of tiny fibres surrounding seeds.

READ ALSO Every wattle has its day right around Australia

Or as Dr Brookhouse puts it, it’s just “plants celebrating spring”.

“It is the packing that is around the seeds that the poplar trees release,” he said.

“The fluff itself allows the seed to be lifted up and carried around by the wind. If you catch some and you roll it in your hand or wet it, you will see there is a hard seed coat in the middle of it.”

Those around Kingston may be seeing more than their fair share of fluff around the place with Canberra and Wentworth Avenues in Kingston being an excellent example of poplar planting, Dr Brookhouse says.

The reasonable amount of rain during winter and coming out of last summer has allowed the trees to produce new leaves, stems and reproductive organs over winter, he said.

But is there anything we can do with the fluff?

Unfortunately no. While the fibrous fluff may resemble cotton and can be used for stuffing, there is not enough around to make anything useful out of it due to how much the fibres compress.

Plus there is also the fact that when it gets wet it just becomes nasty mush.

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