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Signature Sign of Russian Summer: Snow?

15. June 2010 by Michelle 0 Comments

Every year at the start of summer, the Russian capital is a flurry of white fluff. Known as pukh, meaning fluff, this snow-like substance is actually ripened seeds of Moscow’s most abundant tree.


Poplar trees were planted all over the city during the Stalin era to help add more decorative greenery and shade. Unfortunately, the landscapers planted female trees rather than male, which resulted in a blizzard of seedy snow each and every summer.


Towards the end of winter, the female poplar trees produce hundreds of sticky, sweet-smelling brown buds that, once warmed by the spring sun, transform into catkins. Each catkin contains clusters of light brown, egg-shaped pods which hold the seeds. Once they mature, in the first few weeks of June, the catkins split open and the white, weightless tufts of fluff fly through the air. They stick to everything and cause severe allergic reactions for some.


“They didn’t think it through,” said Lilian Plotnikova, a senior dendrologist, or tree expert, at the Central Botanical Garden of the Russian Academy of Sciences. “A lot of things are done that way. Sometimes organizations involving city greening don’t always listen to us scientists.”


Moscow City Hall has devised a plan to replace the female trees with males, but only when it naturally necessary, such as when a tree dies. In addition to being annoying, the pukh can actually be dangerous. The seeds are highly flammable and mischievous kids and teens enjoy setting the fluff on fire. Last week, unidentified suspects set fire to a pile of pukh in the southern Urals city of Kopeisk, burning two nearby wooden garages to the ground.


Luckily, most children just enjoy playing in it.


Source: The National / Photos: Vladimir Filonov, The Moscow Times