Beijing continues its fight against the seasonal deluge of flying catkins by continuing a campaign that limits the reproductive abilities of hundreds of thousands of female poplar and willow trees responsible for creating the “spring snowfall.”
300,000 female willow and poplar trees will be injected with chemical inhibitors to prevent them from forming flower buds as well as have their tree crowns pruned, said the municipal park and foresty greenification department.
To help get rid of flying catkins that have already formed, the city will continue to use high-pressure hoses to wash down the petalless free-flying flowers.
Beginning last year with 400,000 poplar and willow trees, the campaign aims to eradicate over-proliferation of flying catkins by 2020. This year, however, the ongoing campaign doesn’t make any mention of “sex change operations” that would have changed the gender of the trees by grafting male branches onto them.
One solution the city won’t accept is to cut any of the trees down. As Beijing Forestry University Professor Zhang Zhixiang explained, a single poplar tree with a 20 centimeter-diameter trunk can absorb 172 kilograms of carbon dioxide and produce 125 kilograms of oxygen in a year. Moreover, the city values trees so highly that it will continue to increase city forest and park space by 667 hectares this year.
Earlier attempts to control Beijing’s flying catkin problem included a plan to import 10 million male poplar trees back in 1994.
Despite their picturesque qualities, flying catkins pose a major problem for Beijing. Besides their impact upon city residents with allergies, flying catkins pose a tangible threat to public safety due to their flammable nature.
In May of last year, flying catkins were blamed for a Beijing parking lot fire that destroyed 80 busses. The issue became so bad in April 2014 that the Beijing fire department received 3,800 reports of fires caused by flying catkins in a single day. But for all its trouble, Beijing has no one but itself to blame for its flying catkins problem.
During the 60s and 70s, Beijing decided to plant millions of poplar and willow plants around the city, so chosen for their suitability to the harsh northern climate. Without much diversification, poplar and willow plants have become the dominant tree species in Beijing, whose 120 million members are prone to over-produce flying catkins due to a 7:3 gender ratio that favors females.
But as much as Beijing is left to try to balance a short-sighted policy made decades ago, the exact same campaign is happening at the preset time— only on a much larger scale.
China is currently attempting to reforest parts of the Gobi desert with the “Great Green Wall“, an ambitious plan that would cover a 4,500 kilometer-long span of northern China. However, even though it would increase arable land and reduce sandstorm attacks, the plan has been criticized for its impact upon local ecosystems due to a lack of biodiversity.
So even as Beijing inches closer to ridding itself of flying catkins, the city may find that the problem is much larger than first anticipated.
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