Sunday, 21 May 2017

May 17 – The Pollen Blues

(Olive flowers)

It’s not always easy to live in nature and especially under the trees. In spring you have to cut back weeds as numerous as hay in a stack and hack away at nature that wants to invade you. You would think that the paved parts of the garden would not need as much work: just a sweep of a broom and you’re done. Well, forget that, if you have black locust trees. They produce creamy white, lovely scented flowers, a real treat for the hundreds of buzzing bees; but when the flowering is over, the misery starts.

No broom can keep up with a black locust tree that is losing its flowers: you will find them everywhere on the ground, the garden furniture, in your clothes and hair. And if you think that this will only be a problem for a few days – you’d be wrong: it might take weeks before you can sit down on a chair without first having to clean away locust-flowers.

What’s worse is that there are even more trees around the house whose leafy branches provide cool shade in the summer, but in spring cause a real plague. Take the olive trees surrounding the garden. Generally people only think of their friendly silvery green leaves and the golden oil produced. But when they come out of their hibernation and are in bud and forming new branches, they produce hundreds of thousands of tiny yellow-white flowers (an adult tree can have as many as 500,000). And those blossoms also produce tonnes of pollen. The perfume industry loves those flowers, filling elegant little bottles with expensive scented liquid. But I’m not at all happy with these blossoms, because they too have to fly free from the tree – just at the moment when the black locusts have finished shedding their flowers. And no broom can compete with the fall of olive flowers: once you finish sweeping the far end of the terrace, you just have to start anew at the beginning.

It’s not just the unwanted flower carpet that annoys, there is also the pollen that colours all the plants yellow and is a danger to health. The pollen of the olive tree is transported by wind and insects to the place of fertilization, but can also end up in your nose. It all depends on how sensitive you are, but olive pollen rank high on the list of allergies and that is why it is forbidden to plant new olive trees in Amman, the capital of Jordan.

Another tree high on the allergy-list is the pine, and yes, there are also some of them around the house. I must admit that pine trees do not deposit as many shitty flowers. Pine trees have cones that are responsible for propagation. The female cones are woody and fall with the seeds of the trees in autumn, while the male ones – much smaller – are herbaceous and fall from the tree after making the pollen in the spring. That yellow powder is spread by the wind and the female cones know how to manipulate the pine needles in order to create an airstream bringing the pollen exactly were it is needed. Well, part of it – because the other part covers my plants, terrace etc.

By the way, this transport of pollen can produce impressive visual effects. Once, when looking over the pine woods above Parakila, I thought I saw a wild fire. By observing it longer it turned out to be pollen, that in dense sulfur-coloured clouds, rose from the trees, turning and dancing in the air, before descending gently between the pine needles. A rain shower can shoot down all that pollen, turning the roads in olive groves and pine woods yellow, a phenomenon I once thought was a kind of earth pollution

The Greeks fear such a cooling rain shower, because the water can wash away the pollen. So I am not sure if I should be thanking the gods for the refreshing shower we got today. My garden is finally a bit cleaner, but that rain might have also abruptly finished the fertilization rituals of the olive trees. The Greeks, who are nearly entirely economized away by Europa, have the little that they have left mostly due to nature, like chorta (wild vegetables), their vegetable gardens and the products of the olive trees (and here I mean olives and olive oil). So perhaps I’d better sing these pollen blues in silence, nor will I mention that I probably discovered the cause of my recurrent springtime sinusitis: pollen.

(with thanks to Mary Staples)

© Smitaki 2017

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