Another Snowstorm?

Kashmir is familiar with this annual event that has now turned into a serious problem

Poplar Fluff


For a few days - late April to ending May - poplar fluff floats through the air and drifts over our atmosphere and the sidewalks.
This "fluff" is actually poplar seeds that are produced by the female trees of this species. Most allergists agree that  real culprit  is not the fluff but the  pollen of  native grasses and other plants that is released in the atmosphere  just as the  poplars are seeding. Poplar trees also produce  pollen, but it is produced by the male trees in early spring i.e. long before the fluff season. Cutting down all the  female poplar trees at a time thus won't cure your pollen allergy. However we can not be ignorant to the health and other socio-economic hazards of the fluff produced in large quantities in Kashmir that too when our tourist season starts peaking. Besides being eye irritant, the fluff pollutes air, reduces visibility and clogs car radiators and evaporative coolers in the vehicles. It badly affects people suffering from respiratory problems. It is due to these factors that female cultivar of cottonwood trees are banned for mass plantations in some residential areas of developed countries. In Kashmir we need phased removal of these female cultivars and replace them with fast growing male/sterile trees.

Identifying the problem
Poplar is one of the ten most prominent species of the our State and comprises around 15 million trees grown as rural and urban plantations. P. deltoides constitute a dominant position (80%) and contributes around 90% of the total volume realized from all other poplars. Locally known as “Rousee fras” a major proportion of the trees of this species in Kashmir are female cultivars. Since production of timber for construction and making packing crates are the two main objectives for cultivating this poplar, the species is managed for long gestation periods of 15- 20 years in Kashmir (unlike Punjab- with a rotation period of 8-10 years), these plantations enter the reproductive phase and produce large quantities of cottony (fluffy) seed that acts as a pollutant in the atmosphere and hampers the normal life in rural and urban areas of the Kashmir. The problem has become so severe  from the last few years, that there is a large scale public concern to decrease/remove all the female trees of this species which; at present, perhaps seems to be impractical owing to the popularity of this species with respect  to its fast growth and other environmental benefits viz. carbon sequestration potential.

Possible Remedies
• Considering the advantages; the poplar species offer, the only way to come out of this trouble seems to plant fast growing male clones and remove the female ones gradually. The collection of local male germplasm will play an important role to achieve this objective. As a good news for the interested stakeholders the Faculty of Forestry SKUAST of Kashmir has started a research program (at Doctorate level) to collect, screen, evaluate  and produce best and fast growing seedlings of this species for mass multiplication and future planting. The Faculty has also imported some male clones of P. deltoides from WIMCO (Ltd) Haryana. These clones are also being evaluated to screen the best and fastest growing clones for this region.
• There are reports that many poplars (hybrids) have never produced flowers and thus are thought to be sterile. This is an advantage for some areas of this valley where planting of female poplars can be prohibited. These hybrids (Populus spp.) are the result of natural and manmade crosses among poplar species. For instance Populus x Smithii   a natural hybrid between P. tremuloides and P. grandidentata does not produce seeds. Introduction of such hybrids in appropriate habitats can thus be one of the best strategies to overcome fluff and pollen problem  in Kashmir. To begin with we should  replace these trees from the urban areas and replace them with other flowering plants from the time that starts now. However, in rural areas, no removal program  should  be  planned and implemented in a haste unless  production of seedlings of  hybrid sterile/  male  is not prioritized in reputable  nurseries  for mass plantation. 
• The  transportation of  poplars from nurseries in rural areas for out-planting in residential areas of urban settlements community parks and street roads should be completely banned with immediate effect.
• Fortunately, there is a method of reducing the cotton load in poplar trees by chemical treatments. Overhead sprays with  ethephon herbicide such as Florel while the tree is  in bloom  can eliminate the blossoms before the cotton and seeds develop. However using ethephon is not practical for treating large cottonwood trees which attain  a height of 40 -80 ft.
• If your area experiences high fluff production, never allow to accumulate fluff at one place as there will be a possibility of fire hazard.
Besides  above measures, the Government of Jammu & Kashmir needs to devise a “Regional Action Plan for poplars”. The Key Proposals   in this action plan should focus on :
• Map, record and monitor the localities of all poplars within the Kashmir so as to maintain their genetic diversity.
• Establish permanent nurseries across the State  and produce quality planting material of known and verified origin.
• Establish a procedure for recording the origins and placement of recently  planted trees.
• Launch a campaign to replace the female cultivar by fast growing male clone produced in reputable nurseries.
• Avoid planting; especially dense stands, where ever inappropriate, e.g. areas where such planting will undermine the historical value of the site.
• Encourage various agencies (Social Forestry/ farmers and NGO’s) to undertake scientific management of poplar trees and their habitats. Management of  canopy through  regular pruning of poplar trees in the late autumn will the best way to reduce production of reproductive buds and limit seed production.
• Encourage the publication of material to raise the profile of the species.
• Encourage establishment of poplar wood based entrepreneurship and for this the Govt. should help to set up modern industrial units  viz. veneer industry, paper and pulp industry and biomass based heat and electricity generation industry. These industries require raw material from juvenile trees and hence we can harvest poplar trees before they enter into the reproductive phase. It is pertinent to mention that our neighboring States viz. Punjab and Haryana have more poplars than that reported from Kashmir. Both these States do not experience cotton seed menace as they harvest poplars at the juvenile age and use the raw material for making paper and veneers for plywood.
• Finally seek funding for these initiatives from Forestry Commission or National/ International poplar commission.

(The author is a professor in the Faculty of Forestry  SKUAST-K, Shalimar, Srinagar. Feedback at

Lastupdate on : Tue, 28 May 2013 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Tue, 28 May 2013 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Wed, 29 May 2013 00:00:00 IST

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