I was in Northern Italy in the last week of April this year and we couldn't help but notice millions of white fluff continuously floating through the air the whole time. No one seemed interested in this spectacle apart from us. We were in Milan and surrounding towns/villages. Although we did not see them in Verona but it was raining that day.

We figured it was from a tree or plant pollinating but when we asked Italians what this phenomenon was the most we got was that its called 'polline' but nothing about where it comes from.

Which tree does this white fluff come from and is there a specifically large gathering of trees in the Lombardy region that it comes from? I would like to visit in future to see them pollinate at source.

It is quite unusual for me to see literally millions of pieces of white fluff gently float around in the breeze all day long for a week.

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    There I was thinking it was from the spaghetti trees. – Andrew Grimm May 30 '17 at 11:15
  • I add that you can see this fluff not only in Italy but across the Nothern hemisphere from Nothern Europe to Siberia (I won't speak abot USA and Canade because I've never been there). – Neusser May 30 '17 at 14:46
  • Same (or at least similar looking) phenomena is now (end of May/beginning of July) in Berlin, Germany. – Paŭlo Ebermann May 30 '17 at 21:25
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    This should be in Biology or something; how did it get 20 upvotes? – fkraiem Jun 1 '17 at 17:19

Strictly speaking, they are the seeds and not the pollen :-)

Milano and surroundings are really green and full of mountains and trees and parks, poplars especially are quite popular (pun intended), and what you see is what it's mainly called "lanugine di pioppo"/"poplar fuzz".

It's quite complicate and I'm not a botanic myself, so I'll go for a simple explanation. Actually it's not strictly pollen, even if as you noticed everybody call it "polline": what you saw was the seeds of the trees moving around inside their mean of transport, that is the white "fluff".

What happens in reality, is that in spring few kinds of trees release their already pollinated seeds using the white fluff at the same time, that many other trees and flowers release their much much less visible pollens. Lots of people start having allergic reactions, and as the white fluff is so much noticeable and perfectly on time, it's mistaken for pollens itself.

Finally, you can find poplar and other fluff producing trees almost everywhere. If you are in the area again, I can only suggest you a visit to Monza's Park ;-)

  • So this by its own does not cause allergic reactions? – Andrea Lazzarotto May 30 '17 at 23:36
  • @AndreaLazzarotto They can cause an allergic reaction, too...I mean, there are even rare (very rare) people which are allergic to their own body (no joking), so you can be allergic to lanugine too. But point here is the lanuggine is not polline, so when in spring people start having allergic reactions to polline...they are not having a reaction to lanuggine: polline is that the thin yellow powder that make you start cursing 'cause you washed the car the day before :-D Lanuggine has just a bad timing, a lot of visibility, and thus takes the blame even if it's just seeds. – motoDrizzt May 31 '17 at 5:59
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    Milano and surroundings are really green considering that are one of the most urbanized areas of Europe, I have some reservations on this statement :P – Federico May 31 '17 at 10:37
  • Considering i live in Milan, i can tell that Milan is still one of the most urbanized city in europe, but has TONS of parks, gardens, green areas and is surrounded by mountains which are also visible from the city itself. turismo.milano.it/wps/portal/tur/en/scoprilacitta/spaziverdi as you can see here – Anon May 31 '17 at 13:57

It's the seed tufts of a poplar species, specifically Populus nigra:

enter image description here

As this article says:

The tree loves a wet, marshy soil. Which explains why there are so many poplars around Milan and in the Po River plain generally, which is a pretty soggy place. And in Milan, the problem of flying white fluff was truly awful. These pictures are not from Milan but are from that part of the country and give a good sense of the horror of it.

Same article has a photo of how the street looks:enter image description here

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    In North America, several poplar species are known as "cottonwood trees" for obvious reasons. – Michael Seifert May 30 '17 at 13:07
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    The fluff is also really flammable. While it may be fun to ignite a small "cloud" lying on the ground, it's also very dangerous. – STT LCU May 30 '17 at 14:01
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    The german press is reporting that this fluff has been responsible for about 150 fires in Berlin last weekend. berliner-kurier.de/berlin/polizei-und-justiz/… – hiergiltdiestfu May 30 '17 at 14:55
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    @hiergiltdiestfu The fluff is not responsible for those fires, the smokers who throw away lit cigarettes are. Or would you also say that beds are the primary cause of house fires? – Dmitry Grigoryev May 30 '17 at 16:33
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    @DmitryGrigoryev you're right. I was being imprecise, sorry. – hiergiltdiestfu May 31 '17 at 7:08

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