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What is the Plátano Tree and Why Does it Hate Us?

Spring is in full effect, which means... Achoo!

By | [email protected] | October 23, 2018 3:37pm

PlatanoPhoto via Properati

October 15th, 33rd day of Spring

Temperature: 16°C, mostly clear skies.

Sense of Smell: Almost completely lost.

Sense of Taste: Fortunately, I can still tell the difference between salty and sweet… But it’s diminishing by the minute.

First of all, let’s get one thing straight: I’m not a Spring-hater. After the long months of heavy sweaters and bulky scarves that bleak Winter forces us into, I know we’re all in need of temperatures to go up and flowers to bloom for a change. Everybody is eager to dust off the t-shirts and shorts, to show some skin, enjoy some rooftops, live the good life under the sun.

Spring looks good, spring feels good. I get that, I really do. But you know what? For people like me, spring is actually kind of a bummer. And rather than just go with it, I’ve decided to point my finger at the only true culprit behind this massive crime: El Plátano (sure sounds like the name of one of the bad guys in Narcos, huh?). But it’s not, it’s actually that pesky tree that is the main culprit for allergies in this city.

So what is the plátano exactly? It’s a hybrid that derived from crossing Platanus occidentalis and Platanus orientalis (shout out to all my botanist peeps out there). Some tend to place its origins somewhere in London, others in Spain and even in Turkey. But the truth of the matter is that the goddamn thing made its way to Argentina around the 1860s thanks to president Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, he of the solemn frown on the 50 peso bill.

Sarmiento is also credited with advancing public education in Argentina as well as pushing the boundaries of scientific and cultural progress in the country which are all pretty cool things, so I guess I can let the plátano thing slide. Nowadays, almost 10 percent of trees in town are plátanos. That’s over 40 thousand trees in Buenos Aires alone. So thanks for that one, Domingo.

Photo via Semanario Primer Dia

So, is plátano an evil entity?

As much as I hate to admit it, the answer is no, the plátano tree actually cannot tell good from evil, and is even pretty resourceful for us humans in a variety of ways. It’s used a lot in parks and avenues all over the world, mainly in temperate zones, because of the amount of shade it provides and its amazing resistance to pollution.

At the same time it’s known to absorb the noise from car horns and even protect those under it from the rain thanks to its massive foliage. Basically, plátanos are giant natural umbrellas.

OK, but if it’s so helpful, what’s the fuss about?

Well, let’s not get carried away… Plátanos are still pesky sons of bitches. They produce an enormous amount of pollen, that fine powdery substance that male plants use fertilize the female plants and at the same time completely obliterate the senses of allergic folks like myself.

You can see the pollen in the air all the time in spring, falling from above in slow motion, in a sort of hypnotic, almost cinematic dance that will slowly, but surely, make you miserable. Plátanos are known to produce rhinitis, conjunctivitis (ew) and, in some cases, even asthma. I mean, come on, if one person were doing all this damage he’d be public enemy number one, so why should a tree get a free pass?!

How can we, the human race, fight this thing?

So in a recent La Nación article, besides the pretty cool maps and graphs that help visualize where you can find the plátano tree all around town, there is a series of advices dished out by Dr. Ricardo Zwiener  from Hospital Universitario Austral in Buenos Aires. I will next proceed to list them and accompany each one with a snarky little comment in italic on the side because that’s just the only way I know how to communicate my allergic feelings these days.

  • Avoid going outdoors during days of high pollen count. Good luck telling these days apart from the rest, though. 
  • Use sunglasses. This one is actually pretty cool, since you get to cover your swollen, teary, red looking eyes and look like a douchey Hollywood celeb. 
  • Ventilate your house at the beginning of the day and at the end of it. Also good advice for letting out that stench of milanesa and fries that most apartments in Buenos Aires seem to preserve so well. 
  • Maintain good hygiene. This is just good advice for any area in life: work, relationships, family, self-esteem… 
  • Dry your clothes inside the house as opposed to a terrace. So I live in a one-bedroom apartment and I had to sell my washing machine because it didn’t fit in the yard, so this advice is as useless as my nose at this point. 
  • Use anti-pollen filters and air purifiers. So this is actually not a bad tip for your home, but unless you’re planning on making a protective mask with it and parading around town wearing it then it’s just a temporary solution.

I would probably recommend that you visit your otorhinola… otorhinolaryng…. Your ear, nose, and throat specialist and let them check you out and give you some good old drugs to help you. You could also go all natural and get an appointment with a homeopathic specialist and see how that works out.

As I’m writing this I’m actually high as a kite on a mix of loratadina and pseudoefedrina and, although I’m kind of sleepy, I must admit I feel better. You really don’t know how much you miss something until you can’t smell it anymore.