OMG! It’s beginning to look a lot like… ‘Flurries’ may be in the forecast for a little while longer, but shovelling isn’t required for annual poplar, cottonwood seed storm
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Andre Desrosiers wasn’t sure if winter had made an unwelcome return when he saw white, fluffy flakes falling from the sky earlier this week.
“It really looked like it was blowing snow and the ground was completely white,” he said.
It wasn’t snow, but rather a blizzard of seeds from poplar and cottonwood trees.
Desrosiers, 62, harvests wild mushrooms in forests east of Winnipeg and said the seeds transformed his work space into a winter wonderland.
“The fluff seemed to stick to the mushrooms and made them look like little snowballs,” he said.
Desrosiers has harvested wild mushrooms for more than 30 years and said he has never seen such a high amount of fluff.
“It was really interesting to look at. It was a beautiful scene,” he said.
“We get these seeds every year at this time. It’s a natural part of our biology.”
– City of Winnipeg forester Martha Barwinsky
Other than a few of the seeds getting in his eyes and a couple that made him sneeze, the fluff wasn’t really a nuisance for him.
“Wild mushroom picking is a seasonal job just as the fluff is, so as long as I remember to roll up my car windows… they don’t bother me much.”
City of Winnipeg forester Martha Barwinsky said the seeds are nothing new for the province.
“We often forget about it and when it comes back, we think that it’s worse than the previous year,” she said. “We get these seeds every year at this time. It’s a natural part of our biology,” she said.
The seeds come from female trees and are naturally designed to be carried by the wind. The number of seeds that a tree produces depends on the conditions of the previous year and trees may produce more if they are under stress.
Barwinsky said previous drought conditions may have caused the stress, but the seeds aren’t any more prevalent this year, and poplar and cottonwood trees are part of Manitoba’s natural environment.
“It’s important to have poplar and cottonwood trees as part of our forest so that we can have that kind of genetic diversity and biodiversity in our urban canopy,” she said.
The good news for residents who find discomfort in the fluff is that the “flurries” last only for a couple of weeks while the trees are flowering, although weather can extend the period.
Barwinsky said that the fluff might slightly add to seasonal allergies but isn’t the main contributor.
“There’s a lot of airborne pollen, seeds and fluff from dandelions,” she said. “We live in an environment where these are natural and this is certainly a time where those allergies can be aggravated.”
While the fluff is mostly harmless, a spokesperson for the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service said in an emailed statement that it is flammable and can pose a risk in dry areas.
There is currently no fire ban in effect for Winnipeg and a provincial spokesperson said the fluff does not constitute a community hazard or risk.