re:  Tree Planting Policies vs. Allergies

So after my email last week to the City of Toronto, I was happy to get a number of responses back.  Initially just informing me that they were going to provide me with a proper answer … which was nice, and then eventually the actual answer.

I always knew that this would be a complicated issue and I imagine it is still a complicated issue given that cities are dominated by male trees and you have private property and natural areas to consider as well.  Ultimately, there is no real immediate solution but it is fascinating (and terrifying, not to mention painful) to me the impact a simple decision had on people so many years later.

I’m not one to demand immediate action because I don’t want to see trees cut down but I do appreciate that allergy-sufferers are now being considered in tree-planting policy.  Perhaps in the future, we can hope for fewer allergy sufferers and maybe one day someone like me can enjoy spring without shedding so many tears 🙂

I’m part of the City of Toronto’s tree planting
team (to use the non-technical term). The issue of urban trees and
allergies has been on our radar more and more, and we are developing
strategies to accommodate people who have issues with
pollen. To be clear, or goal is to increase the City’s tree canopy by
putting the right tree in the right place, and part of that is
understanding the needs of the City’s residents.

A small amount of background concerning urban tree
planting: In the 1940s it became increasingly common for cities in North
America to plant male trees as they were considered to be less “messy”
in that they produced little or no fruit
or nut debris which could clutter walkways, etc. Growers began focusing
on male tree stock to fulfill this requirement. As a result, over 60
years later, many cities have a tree population which leans heavily on
the male side. More municipalities are now realizing
the allergy-factor in this type of planting. Added to this,
privately-owned trees and those in naturalized areas are a mixed bag.

There are competing views as to how to tackle this
issue, but a popular theory suggests trees with perfect flowers (as
opposed to dioecious and monecious) are better for people with allergies
as the pollen is potentially more isolated within
the flowers and not wind-carried. For example, a Tuliptree (perfect
flowers) has pollen but it mainly stays within the flower unless
transferred by insects, while an Oak (monecious) relies on the wind to
disperse pollen over a wider distance. At the moment
the only tree widely available that does not produce pollen is Red
Maple ‘Autumn Glory,’ which we plant to accommodate homeowner requests
for allergy reduction.

I hope this answers some questions for you on this
large topic, and indicates that the City is trying to be sensitive to
the needs of allergy sufferers while increasing and diversifying
Toronto’s valuable tree canopy.

Tree Planting Policies vs. Allergies

I love trees, but I don’t like allergies.

I’ll state upfront that I don’t know all the facts about trees nor allergies.  I just know that I am an allergy sufferer.  I get allergies year-round but every Spring, it is like going through hell.  It feels like it gets worse over time, even with medication.  This could be due to a number of factors but an interesting city-based policy on tree-planting may have more impact than we might think, and I’m curious.

I live in the city of Toronto, and I decided to write to the department responsible for tree planting and the department responsible for health to see what they have to say.  Here’s my email to them:


Hi there,

I’m emailing both the
departments responsible for Forestry and Health in the city because I
would like to inquire if and what the plan is around the planting of
trees across the city of Toronto.

As someone who suffers
from year-round allergies, with the changes in climate – I’ve noticed
my allergies and the allergic responses of other allergy sufferers have
gotten worse over time as I’ve lived in Toronto for over 30 years.  Also
something discussed in National Geographic last year:

like to inquire if the City of Toronto is planting female trees and if
not – will there be consideration to begin the planting of female trees
and changing the policy of only planting male trees?  Given that
according to an article from 2013 in the Hamilton Spectator, male trees
in the City of Toronto represented 96% of the tree population – this is
a both a tree-planting policy and health issue for Torontonians who are
allergy sufferers or have asthma.

that the City of Toronto is intending on increasing the number of trees
planted in the city, I think this is a concern that should be taken
into consideration.   As this CBC article points out, whether it is
climate change or not – there is an increasing number of people
experiencing allergies.

appreciate the work that is being done by all parties to improve the
city, but I am hoping to learn more on what the City of Toronto is doing
(if anything) to address this growing issue.  If someone could please
inform me about what the City of Toronto is doing about this – or
direct me to the right person to speak with about these issues, that’d
be very much appreciated.

Thanks in advance.

~ Ehren