How Botanical Sexism Agitates Your Allergies

By Elizabeth Crews

This post contains Affiliate Links.

Introduction

After years of his wife suffering with severe allergies and asthma, Thomas Leo Ogren was determined to find a solution to suppress her symptoms. What began as a singular journey to help his wife transformed into decades of research that established him as an allergy expert and the author of the most comprehensive botanical allergy books in existence. He realized that the number of individuals with allergies was increasing exponentially, although one of the causes for this suffering is simple: botanical sexism.

Male v. Female Plants in Landscaping

In The Allergy-Fighting Garden, Ogren discusses the reproduction of plants and trees, focusing specifically on those that are dioecious. These plants have distinct male or female reproductive systems. The males produce pollen, which travels  to the females to create seeds and fruit.

Male plants are most often used by cities and homeowners because they do not produce seeds or fruit like the females. Because of this, females are considered to be high-maintenance and require more upkeep, whereas the males are considered easier to manage. This practice is called botanical sexism.

Issues with Botanical Sexism

Ogren maintains that the best treatment for allergies is avoidance. There are medications and inhalers we can use when we experience reactions; however, he states that intentional planting  is the key to decreasing reactions. The males are designed to create pollen and they will continue to send the highly-adhesive particles into the air. If there are no females there to accept the pollen, it seeks another tall surface to adhere to: often people . Breathing in these sticky particles  causes trouble for those with asthma, allergies, and compromised respiratory systems. While planting male trees is often perceived as lower maintenance, the lowest-maintenance option is actually to plant females alone: they do not produce the same high rates of irritants, and without pollination they cannot produce messy seeds and fruit.

That being said, there are benefits to planting males and females together for sexual reproduction. The singular incorporation of male plants and trees has decreased  biodiversity, which increases vulnerability to diseases like the Dutch Elm Disease. It was introduced in 1930s and laid waste to male American elm trees, which were commonly used for their shade. Their close proximity allowed the disease to easily spread from one elm to the next until they were all but completely wiped out. The impressive American elm population never recovered from that devastation.

Governments have also planted male clonal trees. Groups of asexual clonal trees or plants are called colonies, and they are genetically identical and connected by the same root system. As a colony asexually reproduces, single cells multiply to create more, and mutations can occur at a higher rate than during sexual reproduction.

In a study of famous clonal aspen trees nicknamed Pando, botanists have noted that the trees’ sexual fitness decreases with age, meaning the trees do not reproduce as rapidly. If dangerous mutations occur and are asexually produced rapidly, the organism runs the risk of continuing to produce mutated cells, which make them even more vulnerable to diseases like the Dutch Elm Disease.

OPALS: The Solution

To help people plan the most allergy-friendly gardens and landscapes, Ogren developed the OPALS system. The acronym stands for the Ogren Plant Allergy Scale and it details the least to most allergenic plants in an easy-to-read scale of 1-10. It is currently the most comprehensive guide and it was met with such high esteem that branches of the USDA have incorporated it into their landscaping. In addition to landscaping with low-OPALS-rated plants, planting females to receive male pollen (especially in public spaces) will dramatically decrease human exposure to allergens. This book and the rest of Ogren’s work have made it possible to easily create a garden that is allergy friendly.

To learn more about how you can apply this to your own home or homestead, we recommend purchasing Ogren’s book! Using this link to Amazon doesn’t cost you anything, but we are paid a percentage of Amazon’s profit from your purchase!


© THE LANDERHOLMSTEAD, 2018

Chatting Climate Change & Biodiversity with a Molecular Biologist

The Landerholmstead cares passionately about climate change and human impact on the earth. Sustainable ecosystems are essential for our success in helping people and the environment, as our Mission & Vision mandate.

Last week, I interviewed a friend and peer to get his take -as a molecular biologist – on climate change, biodiversity, and mitigating potential threats to sustainability.

Matt Martello graduated from Kutztown University of Pennsylvania in 2013 with a B.S. in Biology (Molecular/Micro/Cell) and Minors in Mathematics and Biochemistry. He has experience in environmental workings and the importance of biodiversity, including previous employment with the Institute for Environmental Health/Molecular Epidemiology Inc. He has worked to reduce his carbon-footprint in the last year by making small but effective lifestyle changes. Matt says, “I look forward to helping the Landerholmstead make a change in our local environments and around the world.”

Understanding Climate Change

Climate change analysis is both an art and a science: one of patience, observation, and statistical investigation. According to Matt, climate change can be defined as weather patterns and temperature changes caused by human interaction including fossil fuels, CO2, and replacing trees with impermeable surfaces like buildings and roads. He characterizes humans as the greatest threat to our climate: through road/industry development, destruction or disruption of ecosystems, and pollution. Our reliance on our current waste-model (landfills, etc.) is unsustainable because of how long unassisted waste takes to break down. And all the while it’s breaking down, it is releasing CO2 and methane, among other wasted gases.

The Necessity of Biodiversity

Biodiversity is what makes functioning ecosystems possible. It increases productivity and stability. Each element in a biodiverse system fills a niche and plays an essential role. Biodiverse systems “support a greater variety of crops, protect freshwater resources,” and promote the formation and protection of soil structures, Matt urges. Nutrients are recycled into the system instead of being wasted. Think of a basic example with animals, says Matt: “Animal feces breaks down into soil, soil makes plant growth possible, the animals feed on those plants, and so it goes on.” Nutrient breakdown can speed decomposition of potential pollutants and contributes to “climate stability.”

Interestingly, Matt also pointed out that biodiverse systems, because they are more resilient, recover more quickly from natural disasters.

A hot subject in (and out of) the science community, according to Matt, is the potential extinction of bees. Pollinators – like bees – make human life possible. Their potential extinction is a threat to our food source: humans would have to hand-pollinate plants in order to sustain our need to eat. Further, the same plants pollinated by bees feed our livestock for meat production, meaning all parts of our food system would be disrupted by their disappearance.

Biodiversity doesn’t only support our food systems, but also our energy production, medicinal research (including pharmaceutical resources), and contributes “environments for recreation and tourism,” Matt says.

Adapting to Change

Extreme weather patterns are seen increasingly and globally. Matt referenced the dramatic seasons Pennsylvania has experienced in recent years – harsher-than-average winters and extremely hot summers. The lack of tree coverage on monoculture farms creates less shade, meaning the surface of the earth warms and heat comes from both above and below. Further, trees are our best method of carbon sequestration, and less trees = more CO2 released, perpetuating the heat problem.

Being a huge agricultural state, these changes dramatically affect food production, requiring farmers to adapt by using more water (or other cooling measures), changing the crops they rely on to be ones better adapted for extreme temperatures, and adjusting planting dates to save crops from late/early frosts or heat waves. This unpredictability makes an already tricky career far riskier.

Plants and animals are adapting to the changing climate, just as humans are. Matt mentions that plants are adjusting their growing conditions in order to survive, including becoming more/less shade tolerant and more drought resistant or flexible to temperature fluctuations. Similarly, animals evidence their adaptations to changing climate through reactionary life cycle and lifestyle adjustments: including shortened hibernations and migrating to new habitats in search of food.

How to Mitigate the Threat

One of Matt’s first recommendations for adapting is increasing our use of solar, wind, and hydroelectric power sources. These stable, renewable  sources of energy can passively collect power without disrupting ecosystems or threatening human lives.

He then referenced international fast food chains that use unsustainable and unnatural food practices. “Stop eating there,” he said, “or eat there less.” Buy local, sustainably produced foods when you can. “Alcohol and other processed foods often have a huge carbon footprint from production to transportation,” he went on, encouraging people to minimize their use of such products.

Next, he urged, “Stop spewing greenhouse gases. Don’t drive long distances if you don’t have to. Use public transport. Avoid flying when possible.”

He also encouraged using less paper. “Apps can do so much these days.” Electronic communications can often do the same work, and they create less waste.

We recognized together that our impacts often feel small, but small influences from many people can have a huge outcome.

My final question for Matt was what message he would pass on to deniers of climate change. He sighed, as it’s a dilemma plaguing the science community. “Climate change is a fact,” he said. “Look at the predicted 2 degree celsius increase and its effect; wild weather patterns worldwide – of massive systems, some the worst we’ve ever experienced and they’re increasing in frequency and intensity; and the melting ice caps.” Alone, they might seem like natural occurrences in an unpredictable world, but when we consider all of these together, in combination with the elements influencing climate – including humans, the facts are undeniable. And that is the duty of scientists: to look at the whole picture (not a single, lab-bound subject) for a comprehensive analysis.


Written by Rebeccah landerholm, © The Landerholmstead, 2018