(For those of you who have not heard of Tom, he is the creator of the OPALS scale, a classification of all plants according to their allergenicity in terms of inhaled allergens i.e. how likely they are to cause hay fever. You will find the full list in his book, The Allergy Fighting Garden which we reviewed here.
And for those who are entirely new to the subject…
Most male plants and trees spray massive quantities of pollen into the atmosphere in the hope that the wind will carry it and deposit it with suitable female plants and trees. But in the process they cause endless hardships to humans who are sensitive those pollens. Female trees, on the other hand, suck that pollen out of the atmosphere so are much more allergy friendly. But… female trees are far ‘messier’ in terms of town planning – they scatter fruits all over the pavements. So the vast majority of the trees in urban landscapes are male. Tom’s (and Nigel’s) mission is to reverse this trend and get planners, landscape architects and home gardeners to ‘plant female’.
But Nigel now wants to take it one stage further. Yes, he would like schools to take note of the OPALS scale and to plant low allergen trees and plants on their grounds. This would reduce the misery and discrimination meted out to hay fever sufferers not just during the school year but during the all important exam times. But he wants schools to use their low allergen planting schemes as an educational tool, teaching the children not only about basic botany but about respiratory health, basic immunology and allergy in general. To get the ball rolling his Queux Plant Centre is already giving away a female Laurus nobilus ‘Guernsey Girl’ to all school entrants of the Floral Guernsey Foundation Wheelbarrow competition.
And for more on the botanical side of allergy, see the absolutely fascinating article on plant cross reactivity on the FoodsMatter site by one of Nigel’s and Tom’s collaborators, environmental biologist Sue Killian.
Did you know that if you were sensitive to ragweed you might also be sensitive to watermelons, cantaloupes, honeydew melons, courgettes, cucumbers and bananas? Or that if you react to the olive pollen allergen, Ole e 10 (a quite common allergy in southern Europeans while we northerners have much more trouble with birch) you may well react to latex, tomato, kiwi, potato and peach. And as for birch… Well, as those of you who do react to birch may already know, that means that you could also react to apple, almonds, carrots, celery, cherries, hazelnuts, orange, peach, pear, plums, potatoes and walnuts.
However, don’t get too depressed as, if you can get de-sensitised to birch, then that also means that you may also be desensitised to all of those foods too!