Thursday, October 7, 2010

Darlinghurst: Plant Life: Plane Trees

To most people this tree appears harmless, some might even say it looks beautiful, but for me, and thousands of other Sydney-siders, the Plane tree is evil.
The London Plane tree, or Platanus x Hispanica as it's known to horticultural geeks, is a deciduous tree that grows to 30-50m in height and is native to the northern hemisphere.
Because of its drought tolerance and hardiness in harsh urban environments the City of Sydney Council decided it would be a fine idea to plant hundreds of the bastards around Darlinghurst, Potts Point and Surry Hills. And they continue to do so.
When I see Plane tree saplings, newly planted in the area and propped up with wooden stakes - like this recent arrival on Craigend Street - I have the urge to snap their trunks.

How does a tree inspire such hatred?
Because every year around September, the Plane trees decide to dump their load of pollen and hair into the atmosphere, creating a war-zone for allergy sufferers.
After inflicting their initial damage, the pollen and fine yellow hairs then hide in crevices, gutters and footpaths laying in wait for stray wind gusts to launch them back into the atmosphere for further lethal missions:

This goes on for about two months, maybe three, and despite managing to avoid their deadly assaults this year, today I wasn't so lucky.
I had just left home and was walking along Darlinghurst Road in Kings Cross, on my way to a lunch date and in high spirits when, without warning, they attacked. On what was a supposedly fine day, a cruel wind gust, loaded with Plane tree ammunition, launched itself towards me. There was no time to duck for cover before it struck me in the face and along my body. It was like being shot at by a pellet gun. Then, just as quickly as it arrived, the wind and its nasty master disappeared around the corner down Roslyn Street.
The effects were felt immediately. First I tried to pluck the dust from my eyes, then my nose became clogged, my throat felt sore and my arms and legs grew itchy.
Over lunch, I continued to rub my eyes, blow my nose and drink lots of water to calm my throat, but the symptoms did not abate. It didn't matter what I did, because the pollen was in my hair too. Then it brought upon a headache.
It is only now, hours later, and since I have returned home, had a shower and shampooed my hair, that I am starting to feel clean again, and a little better.
I'm having a beer too, in a bid to lift my mood.
This year the Plane trees also dust-bombed my car, infecting the glove-box and boot, despite the windows and doors being shut tight. That time I had a friend clean the dust out for me, so I could take her on a drive, but I worry about when the next attack will occur.
I worry too about the people who are actually allergic to the trees, because strangely, I am not.

About four years ago I was at Kings Cross Markets (located right near the Macleay Street Plane tree district in the photograph above) and there was a little desk with a sign that said, Free Plane Tree Allergy Testing. The testing was being undertaken by Euan Tovey of the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research in a bid to find allergy sufferers to take part in an 18-month study.
I wasn't really interested in becoming a guinea pig because it involved clipping a nasal sampler inside one's nose to catch dust and pollen particles.
But I was keen to know if I was allergic to the dreaded Plane tree. And as it turned out, I wasn't. Dr Tovey said I merely suffered from Plane tree irritation.
But I already knew that.
So if I have such a terrible reaction to Plane tree pollen, just imagine what life in Spring is like for true allergy sufferers.
Yet the City of Sydney Council continues to plant Plane trees and appears to be in denial about their public health risks, posting this on their website:

''In response to some residents raising concerns about the allergenic properties of Plane Trees, Council has received independent advice from medical and horticultural experts, including allergy specialists. Allergy experts at Royal North Shore and Concord Hospitals have advised that Plane Trees are not generally recognised by either of their allergy clinics as a particular problem.''

When the City of Sydney Council invested dollars in a beautification of William Street in 2005, their plans included an avenue of Plane trees, prompting University of NSW Professor Mike Archer, Director of the Australian Museum and Dean of Science at the University of NSW, to declare the idea ''disastrous''.
"It's like putting in rabbits and saying they're pretty,'' Prof Archer told the Sydney Morning Herald.
"It's like planting brick statues. Nothing eats them, no native birds go to them.''
The Asthma Foundation also opposed the council's plans but the Plane trees went in regardless:

Gardening Australia devotes a page on its website to Plane tree allergies and highlights their risk to public health. Wisely, Gardening Australia's Jerry Coleby-Williams also lists half a dozen or so native trees (the Plane tree is not indigenous) that have proven successful in urban environments, but which don't cause allergies or irritation. City of Sydney Council take note: these trees include the Illawarra Flame, Blueberry Ash, Water Gum and Broad-Leaved Paperbark.
The Gardening Australia page also contains this interesting point:

''Plane tree pollinosis sufferers can also develop food allergies. Once the immune system is activated by Plane tree pollen it will recognise similar plant proteins in foodstuffs.
Hazelnuts and celery have similar proteins in them, and so eating these foods can also cause an allergic response but can happen at any time of the year.''

It's frightening stuff. And as the City of Sydney Council continues to carry on planting in ignorance, I can only recommend allergy sufferers follow the techniques used in the following instructional video:


And if that YouTube link doesn't work, click here to learn How to Kill a Tree in 15 Minutes.

8 comments:

hatarimama said...

"Royal North Shore and Concord Hospitals have advised that Plane Trees are not generally recognised by either of their allergy clinics as a particular problem." - I love this: any honest medic will tell you that allergy tests are wildly inaccurate. I KNOW what I'm allergic to and the tests always show up negative. What rot!

pbenroe said...

I have never had any allergic reaction to anything before until I returned to Australia from living in London for two years. I now work in Potts Point and every year since like clockwork in August/September/October my eyes start itching like crazy, my nose starts running gets blocked, I sneeze... It's crazy. And I look out my window at work and the street is lined with the Plane Trees!!! With stuff flying around all over the place!!! This is unbearable. Ho is it the the City Of Sydney Council are so incompetent!

Anonymous said...

I arrived in Sydney in April - I have just developed all the runny nose/red eyes/flu symptoms - for four days straight which cold and flu tablets aren't working - then I thought maybe it is hayfever? Around Spring in London where I had been living for 9 years the same thing happened when I travelled into central London - which I worked out were the plane trees - and from having no allergies when I arrived in London, it got worse every year.
Now I have discovered here the same trees on Harris st, Pyrmont near my work, with pollen in the same state it i swhen I am suffering in London - coincidence???? Outrageous that the council is still planting these.....

Ben

Anonymous said...

I suffer so intensely from an acute allergy to plane trees, that I haven't slept for 2 nights now, I am having a steroid shot tomorrow (depot) that stops my immune system from reacting to the pollen.
When I lived in Darlinghurst I once did not sleep for 10 days and still went to work, `i was an absolute wreck on the verge of death. I simply could not breath at night with both nostrils completely blocked. I now live in Adelaide and it's the same story here...The council is crazy for this deadly craze for plane trees. I have always said that the reaction could kill an older person. It is so devastating.

Jill Koppel said...

I'm collecting as much evidence as possible to assist the people of Inner Melbourne to challenge and influence our complacent (and willingfully ignorant) local councils about the treacherous health effects of these trees. So thanks for this blog post.

I happen to live in a part of Abbotsford, Melbourne that has an 'avenue' of monster Plane trees and, because I live on a busy through street, I witness the daily distress of pedestrians passing by.
I avoid going out on windy days because as you point out, the nasty effects of the plane tree seeds continue well after Spring shedding as they lay in drifts along the roadside.

I'm not as allergic as others - I just go into paroxysms of coughing and have difficulty breathing when I've inhaled the tiniest of their particles. I always carry Tiger balm or Eucalyptus drops to help me start breathing again in these instances.

So I will continue to confront all my tree hugging buddies who deny the evil effects of these trees.

Anonymous said...

A recent 2013 study by Sydney University has shown that it's not the Plane trees but commonly planted grasses that cause the allergies. Out of 64 subjects who said they were allergic to the Plane trees, 14 actually were. The rest were allergic to ryegrass, bermudagrass, pet hair, and pollen from other trees.
So Plane Tree allergy does exist, but it's much less common than people realise.

Jill Koppel said...

Don't agree with your Sydney University study findings- i live in a Plane tree monoculture in inner Melbourne- no grasses round here. And I'm not allergic to airborne pollens but will testify anywhere that the Plane trees cause any amount of irritant to breathing. See my above comment.
By the way, the Tree nazi (council arborist) has seen fit to replace the dead plane tree outside my house after one dismissive reply to my email and phone conversation. So I have referenced this blog post once again for general consumption. THANKYOU.

Jill Koppel said...

Don't agree with your Sydney University study findings- i live in a Plane tree monoculture in inner Melbourne- no grasses round here. And I'm not allergic to airborne pollens but will testify anywhere that the Plane trees cause any amount of irritant to breathing. See my above comment.
By the way, the Tree nazi (council arborist) has seen fit to replace the dead plane tree outside my house after one dismissive reply to my email and phone conversation. So I have referenced this blog post once again for general consumption. THANKYOU.