What is the fluff?
No, it’s not snow in May and there hasn’t been an explosion at a cotton wool factory, in fact the white stuff is seeds from the aspen tree.
The aspen is a type of poplar whose seeds are dispersed together with these feathery fluff balls which help the seeds float in the air to reach new sites.
Why is there so much of it?
It’s common to see some of the white feathery balls floating around at this time of year, but this spring has been an unusually good one for aspen trees – resulting in more than usual white fluff.
The aspen tree is commonly seen throughout northern Europe and is often planted in built up areas, so cities such as Paris are seeing a lot of the fluff blowing around on the pavements. In some areas there has been so much of the stuff that it even looks like it is snowing.
Will it make me sneeze?
Hay fever sufferers shouldn’t worry, the fluff does not cause a reaction in the same way that pollen does.
Pollen is released during flowering, which in France happens in early spring, and it is only when the pollen has fertilised that the flower seeds are released.
So the fluff itself will not cause allergic reactions, but its feather-like quality may still make you sneeze if you breathe it in.
Is it just in France?
No, these trees exist across northern Europe.
Here’s some relevant French vocabulary:
Les Graminées (grasses)
Un Peuplier (a Poplar tree)
Une Graine (a seed)
Le rhume des foins, ou rhinite allergique (Hay fever)
Le nez qui coule (a runny nose)
Le pollen (pollen)