I think we can all agree that allergies are the absolute worst. There is no upside, which begs the question: Why? Why are allergies a thing?! Some scientists say that seasonal allergies may be worse now because of “botanical sexism,” according to Atlas Obscura.
Here’s how it works. Trees, like people, can come in both male and female varieties. Male trees are the ones that distribute pollen, which fertilizes the female trees.
Pollen is also, of course, the stuff that makes your nose and eyes run like a waterfall for three months out of the year.
This is a problem, because there are apparently too many male trees in cities nowadays. Without female trees to trap their pollen, the stuff just goes flying everywhere and driving your system haywire.
OK, that’s the overview. Now things get a little more complex…
In trees, some species consist of male trees and female trees; these are “dioecious” trees. Other species, called “monoecious” trees, contain male and female parts on the same tree — sometimes even within the same flower.
The dioecious trees are the main culprit of botanical sexism, says horticulturalist Tim Ogren. He observed that, in urban areas, most of the trees are male. This was originally because female trees produce seeds, which can be a “nuisance.”
Over the years, gardeners, city planners, and landscapers have tended to favor male plants over female ones whenever possible, Tim explains.
“Botanical sexism runs deep,” he said.
While scientists don’t agree on the use of the word “sexism,” the issue of a lack of diversity in horticulture is certainly a real one. Just ask my aching sinuses.