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Snow in June or pollen falling from the trees?

Lawn covered with feathery achenes © Pascale Maynard
Snow in June or pollen falling from the trees?

Neither! The “flakes” you see swirling through the air in late May to early June can carpet lawns like the first snowfall of winter. In the greater Montréal region, this fluff mainly comes from tall cottonwood poplars.
But contrary to popular belief, it is not pollen. In fact, it is a tiny seed attached to long silky hairs, resembling cotton. The hairs allow the seeds to be carried away by the wind.

A male or female tree?

Un akène plumeux © Pascale Maynard

There is a big difference , literally,between seeds and pollen. Pollen is minuscule, resembling a fine powder that is barely visible to the naked eye.
Poplar trees are either male or female. Male trees produce the pollen that, transported by the wind, pollinates the flowers of the female trees; the seeds are the product of this union.
And it is that little poplar seed, attached to its “cotton,” that you see falling from the sky — a feathery achene, to be precise! Do the flowers on your cottonwood not produce “cotton”? You must have a male tree, in this case, which is sometimes called a “cottonless cottonwood.”

This article was written in cooperation with Pascale Maynard, from the Jardin botanique de Montréal’s horticultural information team.

Do you have questions about this blog?

Visit our Green Pages Or, go to the Horticultural information counter at the Jardin botanique for personalized service. One of our experts will be happy to give you more information.

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