Tom Ogren is a genius. Last week we did a frenetic cross-town exposition on plants, allergies, and health with him. As he showed us around SLO, pointing out the allergy-inducing plants that abound in public places, it sunk in to me that we’ve been pretty careless about how we’ve landscaped our homes and our city. (I’ve created an interactive map of our journey so you can follow along and see which plants Tom identified).
Enter Tom Ogren. His findings mark the next step in creating a sustainable, livable environment. In a nutshell what Tom has discovered over 25 years of investigation and analysis is that allergies are getting worse—and we are responsible.
Why? Because we apparently don’t like cleaning up a mess.
Now, during our walk, Tom threw out a few latinate terms that I certainly can’t remember (you’ll have to read his book to get the full story), but the gist is that many female plants produce seeds or berries.
Which fall off.
Which we then have to pick, sweep, or scoop up.
So, to avoid the trouble, we just plant male trees instead. And this is where we shoot ourselves in the foot—or up the nose. Because male trees usually produce pollen.
Tons of it.
And since it doesn’t have anywhere else to go, it goes right up the schnoz.
Not that any of this was intentional: for many years landscapers and homeowners simply chose plants based on their aesthetic appeal. The most obvious example of this type of philosophy can be seen in the water-intensive lawns and plants that still dominant our cityscape. Now, however, given the burgeoning awareness of our limited resources, there has been a concerted move toward sustainable landscapes. Beautiful new front yards are beginning to appear based on this new, sustainable approach.
We need the same awareness to burgeon (I love that word) about creating allergy-free landscapes. It is a means of creating a sustainable environment for our eyes, lungs, and immune system. Seriously. Given the amount of money we invest in anti-allergy medications, this is a very expensive problem that could significantly reduced simply by changing our landscaping practices.
And some cities are already doing it. With Tom’s advice and guidance, several cities in the southwest and, believe it or not, in New Zealand, have adopted landscaping policies that forbid certain plants and that require the planting of female versions of others. They’re very progressive. Even feminist.
Lastly, Tom recommended a few things you can do to at least limit the effect of seasonal allergies. A list:
- DON’T rub your eyes. Some pollens look like miniature ninja stars or balls of spikes, so rubbing your eyes when they itch will only result in itchier eyes that are now bloodshot
- If you’ve been outside for a while (especially if it’s been windy), take a shower and put on fresh clothes once you’re inside
- If your allergies are really bothering you, stay in the shower, close all the windows and the door, and make it hot—the steam will help clear your sinuses
- If it’s a bad allergy day and you can make it to the beach, do it—the fresh air from the ocean will clear you up
- Lastly, and most importantly, buy and eat local honey
I had no idea the last bastion of male dominance would be in the plant world. Go figure. Now that I do know, feminists unite! Let’s get female plants their rightful place in our yards and streets!
How about you? Do you have allergies? Have they gotten worse? How do you deal with them?