Tom Ogren: “Optimize an Allergy Fighting Landscape” | Talks at Google

By Adem Lewis / in , , , , , , , , /

TOM OGREN: I’m Tom Ogren. And I’m the author
of a number of books on plants and allergies. And I’ve been studying this
for more than 30 years now. And the question I’m asked
most often is, how did I get into this and why? Do I have terrible allergies? And I don’t. But I’ve been married 48
years to the same lady. Her name’s Yvonne. And she was 15 when I met her. And she was having
allergies and asthma. And that’s how come she
wasn’t able to run away. The asthma was slowing her down. But at some point in our life
we were buying another house. And I had in my mind it
would be nice if I could– the landscape didn’t impress me. I was a horticulturalist
and a horticulture teacher and a landscaper. And I thought, what
if I landscape this so nothing in this yard will
ever make Yvonne sick, so at least she’ll have
her own cocooned area. And the more I thought about
it, the better I liked the idea. And so I went out to buy a
book on allergy-free gardening. And the first librarian I asked
about it was at a university. And she laughed. And I said, well,
what’s so funny? And she said, well
it’s the gardens that cause all the allergies. But I had already learned
a few things by that point. And I had learned at some
plants did and some didn’t. I didn’t know all of
that at all, believe me. But I had been doing sniff
tests with my students teaching landscape
gardening in a prison. And we didn’t beat
them or anything to make them do the sniff. It was voluntary
and I did it myself. But the very first plant–
in fact, the thing that got the idea in my head
is my sister Rachel, she lives in Berkeley. She likes to get me
to come up and do landscaping work for free
whenever she can, you know? She’s got her own expert
and the price is right. And so I was up there
doing some work for her and put in water lines
and so on in Berkeley. And everybody was sneezing. It was spring time. And she was having asthma. And a week later,
I was driving home. And I was thinking about it. I live in San Luis Obispo. And I was thinking about. And I thought, you know–
because at this point I was still thinking
allergies were psychosomatic, because I had read
a book by an MD about psychosomatic illnesses. And he basically claimed that
asthma and allergies were a head trip and that if you
really had your act together you wouldn’t have them. And since I didn’t have them,
I believed it, you know. So I would tell
my poor wife when she’d have an
asthma attack, well, why don’t you get
your act together? It’s just a terrible thing. And so when I finally
did get into it, I felt very guilty, of course. But the moment, that sort
of ah moment when I suddenly felt guilty was I’m driving
back from Rachel’s to San Luis Obispo. And I’m thinking of this. And I thought, what– and
I knew nothing, really. I knew a lot of plants. I was a good horticulturist. But I knew nothing. I thought, what if we go with
my students and we all sniff, we start one flower and
everybody in the class sniffs. We do another, and we record,
see if anything does anything. And so I explained it to
the class on Monday morning. They were like, yeah. Yeah, that’s a good idea. Let’s try it. And so the first flower
we ever did was pansies. And everybody in the whole
class, maybe 30 guys, they all sniffed
pansies, including me. Nothing. And we did some double dianthus. And everybody sniffed it. Nothing. And already I’m thinking, see,
direct right in their face, nothing. And then they were growing
a bunch of bottlebrush and we had them in gallon cans. They’re flowering. And I sniffed it, nothing. And my foreman
sniffed it, nothing. Gave it to this one
big muscle-bound, tattooed tough guy
and he sniffed it. And he sneezed so
hard, it like almost knocked everybody
including him down. And everybody was
like, whoa, you know. And everybody thought
it was really funny. But by the time we
went around the class, I think we had a
dozen guys sneezing. And this was on Monday. And they don’t give you
Allegra or Zyrtec or Claritin in the prison. And on Friday,
some of these guys were still sneezing,
off of one direct sniff off that bottlebrush. Now as soon as that
happened, I was like, oh, this is not psychosomatic. This isn’t something just
most– and the doctor had said it mostly
affected women, because they were hysterical,
or prone to hysteria. And for years I would never even
admit this part of the story, because I found it
embarrassing, as I should have. But I guess enough
time has passed. But that was my motivation. And so when they laughed at
me about a book about it, I thought, well, I’ll
just figure it out myself. And I started studying. This was pre-computers,
and I soon had stacks and stacks of
things off my typewriters. And then people started
finding I was doing this work. And so they would ask
me about some plant. I would have to dig through
all these unorganized files. And at one point, I
decided I was just going to start doing all
the landscape plants A to Z if it took me 10 years. And it took me 12 years, A to Z. And somewhere along
the line I decided I would rank them, 1
to 10, every plant. I developed this
whole criteria list that would use close to
140 different criteria. And that’s called OPALS. And so a person could
know no horticulture. They could see the
name of the plant, look it up, see it’s
an OPALS 3, 1 being the best, 10 being the worst. They could go, ah, 3,
I could live with that. And that’s simplified it. My brother Paul told me,
yeah, get some laughs. Well, I’m doing better at
that than I expected already. Anyhow, I started
thinking about it. And I’ll get in depth
here in a minute. But I started thinking
about this talk. And I thought, well,
I’m getting to the point where I’ve been
studying this so long and I’ve given so
many talks on it and I have been published on
it in “The New York Times,” last week in
“Scientific American.” I’ve been published
three, four times in “New Scientist,” all
sorts of great publications and everything. And things are
starting to happen. But I’m getting impatient. And I thought, well,
I’m coming to Google. And Google is known to hire the
brainiest people in the world, and then to coddle them with
free lunches and free lattes and stuff, you know. And I noticed when I was
getting my coffee that there was a– or somewhere
here, yeah, there was a little sign about
allergens in your food. And I thought, well, you
know, that’s worth mentioning. They’re worried about
the food allergens but nobody seems to care about
the allergens in the air. And by the way,
the food allergens are all related to
the pollen allergens. That’s usually how you end up
getting the food allergens. They’re all cross-reactive. And so I thought the focus in
my mental head about this talk is going to be to
challenge Google. So Google, I
challenge Google here. I’m quite serious about it. I talk to people
and I say, OK, I’m going to give a Google talk. And they go like,
oh, that’s awesome. And you ask people what
do they think about Google and they say, innovative. They say, really smart. They say, make things happen. They say, they like a challenge. And so my challenge would be
we take this very complicated Google landscape– and I
came up here a few weeks ago and spent some
time looking at it. And we take this very
complicated, actually quite allergenic landscape
and we transform it into the most allergy-friendly
landscape in California, the most allergy-friendly
landscape in the United States, the most healthiest,
allergy-friendly landscape in the entire world. And we do it right
here at Google so that the people
that work at Google will be the ones that
benefit the most. Now as I get into this, you’ll
see that my talk is a lot more than just about allergies. Not to minimize allergies,
for people that have them they can be miserable. Fire away there, Stewart. All right. That’s a picture I took. The pollen didn’t
come from my house. This is at my house. And in the background,
by the way, there’s the largest
dawn redwood, Metasequoia glyptostroboides
in the entire United States in my front yard. It’s cracking my
foundation and everything. I can’t do anything about it. It’s ruining my sewer pipes. But it’s the biggest one
in the United States. And the pollen comes
off– this thing was parked next to a row of male
juniper bushes that showered it and– OK, flip, Stewart. The story behind this. Two years ago, Johnson
& Johnson hired me to drive– to go
coast to coast in Canada and do an allergy audit
of their urban forests in the 11 largest cities. So I start on Vancouver
Island and I drove my truck all the way to Halifax. And in each city I
spent a week or two just walking around with a
clipboard and a camera and binoculars for looking
up in these tall trees, and sexing trees. And I was in a hotel
room in Toronto. Now an ash tree is
a big massive tree. There are literally thousands
of them right here at Google. And they’re separate sex,
so one tree is all male and one is all female. Probably 99% of them
at Google are male. The males produce the
pollen, not the females. So I picked a couple of
these little clusters that were not shedding pollen. I brought them up
to my hotel room and I set them on
a piece of paper. And I printed out something,
or maybe they did that. But the next day when I gave
them a little tap, that’s how it looked. That’s how much pollen
was just coming off a couple of little clusters. Now, on a big tree, there’s tens
of thousands of these clusters. Fire away. All right. I threw this up here
because I’m not an MD. I’m not a PhD. I’m a horticulturalist
with extreme deep interest in health and allergies. But I’ve been
shopping the new book. And I guess we can
only see part of this. But these are some very,
very good big time allergists around the world that are pretty
much saying that my work is right on the money. But you notice it says,
alternative and complementary approach to this. And I’m not trying to take the
place of doctors or anything, believe me. But this is an alternative. And it is complementary. It will make everything
better big time. Go for that. Botanical sexism is what I’m–
I’m credited with discovering a number of things. And one of them is
botanical sexism. And this is the fact
that every time they could make a choice between a
male and female bush or tree in the cities, pretty
much everywhere in the civilized world, from
New Zealand to Nova Scotia, they always went with the male. And that’s because the females
drop seeds or pods or fruits or something. But the males drop stuff too. This is a male cedar tree. And that’s pollen on the ground. I’m not going to get
too technical here, but– I guess I won’t
even have a chance, if Stewart doesn’t let me. But there’s basically
three types of flowers. And actually there’s
20, but I’m not going to get into
the fine details. There’s perfect-flowered,
like a rose bush. You’ve got male and
female in the same flower. A bee only has to move the
pollen from the male part to the female part, maybe a
quarter of an inch or less. The pollen is typically
sticky and large, not causing a lot of allergies. However, there are exceptions. Monoecious, monoecious trees
have like typically one branch is all male, one is all female. These used to trap a
lot of their own pollen. The parking lot where
we’re parked in today looks to be about 100 or
more monoecious trees. There are no female flowers. They’ve been grafted
with parts from the male. That means they won’t
drop any messy pods. But it means that the parking
lot is already allergenic. And 5 years from now, it’s
going to be 20 times more. Three of the ones that I’m the
most interested, dioecious, separate sex. Everybody here is dioecious. Some of us are boys
and some are girls. I’ll tell you a quick story
here before I go any further. I like to work my
wife into all this, since we’ve been
married so bloody long and she’s put up with me. But around 30 years ago I was
sitting in bed with my wife. And I was reading a book
on pollen, big thick thing that almost nobody reads. And she was reading a novel. And I kept reading
about those separate sex dioecious species that’s
causing so much allergies. And some were even saying,
don’t plant any of these. And they include
hundreds of plants. And I suddenly got
this bright idea. And I said to my wife,
I said, Yvonne, I said, I’ve got this idea. And she said, what’s that? And I said, if these
plates are really separate sexed, that
means one’s the male, another one’s a female. She says, OK. And I said, they say that
like willows and poplars and maple trees cause
all this allergy. But I said if they’re separate
sexed, think about it. The male is putting
all that pollen out. That’s his job. The female doesn’t
produce any pollens. Females don’t produce pollen. And my wife said, huh. I said, in fact, if you think
about it, the female that traps pollen but never produces any
is a true allergy-free plant, isn’t it? And she said, oh, you might
be on to something, Tom. And I probably wasn’t
on to anything. But it kept me talking and
running my mouth for 30 years. OK. So the epidemic of allergies
in epidemic asthma in the ’50s, probably around 3%, 4%
had pollen allergies. By ’88, I was already
into this and studying it. And I was reading about
the huge jumps to 12%. By ’99, in the American
College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology said it was now
38%, appeared to be growing. We don’t even know what it is
now, but go ahead and flip. OK, so Charity Allergy in the UK
said that– you can read that. The last one is
probably more important. Getting pollen
allergies more than doubles the chance that a
child will develop asthma. Once you’ve got asthma,
you’ve got asthma. You don’t cure it. And it would be much better
if children didn’t develop allergies in the
first place and that makes them double the
susceptibility to getting asthma, which is
a life-long thing. But when I look at landscapes,
the very worst ones I see are typically in
elementary schools. And the very
highest pollen count ever recorded United States was
taken at an elementary school in Las Vegas. And I went there
and visited and took some photos a couple years ago
and there were 24 mature shade trees and 23 of them
were clonal males. And all the bushes were
clonal juniper males. We’re just setting these kids
up with that sort of landscape. All right, so these
are all related. Asthma increase chance of
getting diabetes, heart disease. In the last 20 years,
all these huge increases and all of these
things are related. This is where to
me it is starting to get much more serious. This is just data coming
from about five years ago, maybe six. Women who have
airborne allergies are at increased risk from
leukemia, ovarian cancer, and breast cancer. Let’s see what the
next slides says. To me that’s a very big
deal, especially if we can do something about it. It doesn’t seem right. I think my favorite is
one, two, three, four. These were off of newspapers. No rain, lots of pollen. And then, rain triggers
avalanche of pollen. Tidal wave, a pollen vortex. I’ve given all these talks
across the United States and in a bunch of
different countries. And I will go places and
people will come up afterwards. And they say I don’t
know if you know it, but this place right
here is the worst place in the whole country
for allergies. And I’ll be like whoa, actually,
you’ve got a lot more company than you think. Can you see the
pollen on the ground? On the cement? I wish that have been
blacker black top. But this is a male red maple
tree and this is up in Toronto. When I drove by
it, I thought you know that’s quite illustrative
of pollen dispersal. The big problem is that there’s
been so much misinformation. They would say pollen
blows for 1,000 males. There’s nothing you
can do about it. Well, we now find
out that things we do even affect the weather. And believe me,
it affects pollen. But the pollen
typically on a tree falls very close to the
drip line of the tree. The drip line is just
about what it looks. And so if you were to come
ten feet this direction, you would trap a little bit
of pollen from that tree, but not very much. And if you got 50 or 100 feet
from it, you’d trap hardly any, maybe not enough
to make you sick. But if that tree was right
over your front porch or if that tree was
over the school benches where your children
were eating their lunch, you be showering them
with that and that pollen is exceptionally allergenic. So everything is to
deal with proximity. You get the best
things in proximity. They talk about
grass pollens a lot, again, as though there’s
nothing we could do about it. So I brought an example, I
brought some of the flyers and I don’t sell
this stuff myself, but I know people that grow it. But this is a clone developed
at UC Davis, called UC Verde. That’s UC Verde buffalo grass. It’s a native grass. It’s separate sexed. The entire grass, which is
planned from plugs or sod, is a female clone. It stays very low. It needs very little water,
very little fertilizer. And it produces zero
pollen and it traps pollen. It’s wonderful stuff and yet
you don’t see it used much. I’m replanting all the
grass areas in my front yard to this same clone. And you may be have to
mow it two three times in a whole year,
wonderful stuff. And then there are
other female grasses. I’ve got six different
cloned out female grasses at my house, all of which
are useful for different– so we could have female
grasses if we wanted. Go ahead. I don’t know if everybody’s
familiar with the term xenoestrogens. But a xenoestrogen is something
that’s an estrogen mimicker. It’s a chemical
that’s very potent. And typically, we think of
them in plastic water bottles and so on. There are xenoestrogens in
those plastic water bottles. The worst thin you
could possibly do would be to stick
one in a microwave, warm it up and then drank it. I mean you might as well just
shoot yourself in the foot. But there was a group of college
students not too long ago. I don’t remember where. But they took water
out of a tap water and they put a flat
of soybeans here and another flat over here. One they just watered
with the tap water. The other one they took and
they put it in the water in a plastic baby bottle. And then they warmed
it up in a microwave, and then they let it cool down. The water the other
flat with that. They grow the soy bean plants
until they’re about this big and then they pulled
them out and tested them. And one of them
had almost no PBAs and the other one was saturated. Now, picture the urban trees. And as a crow flies, how far
we from the 101 freeway here? Anybody? A mile? Maybe less, as the crow flies. Yeah. OK, so there’s
extremely good data and has been for awhile
that the closer in the to a major freeway, the shorter
your life, up to 10 years if you’re quite close. And yet, they’re of course
building these house is very close to the freeways. After a mile, that effect
starts to weaken out because you’re not getting
as much fumes in the air from all this exhaust. The PBAs and a thousand
other chemicals like them are all
in that exhaust. And our defense against this
are the trees, the city trees. So if we were smart, we
would plant massive amounts of huge trees along
those freeways to be the first line of defense. And then we would do similar
things as we went away. But the picture the
situation, and let’s just say we’re back at the
elementary school again, and say we’re within a
mile of a major freeway. We’ve got a lot of
little kids there. And we’ve got a huge
shade tree that we planted growing where the kids
are going to eat their lunch. Let’s say it’s a diaceous
species, as is typically used. Say that tree is a female ash. At a certain point,
it will sprinkle seeds all over the tables,
all over the ground. Little kids pick them up and
throw them at each other. But we could say to the
kids don’t eat those seeds. They’re are not good for you. And because that tree is
absorbing all these pollutants from all these cars
and all this industry, they’re absorbing
it from the water. They’re absorbing masses
of it from the air. Now, say instead of that tree
being this big female ash dropping the messy seeds
that we could rake up and throw in the
trash or compost, say instead it was a male. Now, we shower our kids
with all this pollen and the pollen is the
trees way of releasing all those same pollutants
that went into it. Now when we think
of this, it’s not hard to see how
people with inhalant analogies– and why it
affects women more than men, I’m not sure. But I think it’s because
pollen is strongly hormonal, and even the pollen that’s
androgenic in the body will, through what’s
called aromatase, will shift to an estrogen form. And so we are bombarding women
will all these extra estrogens that they don’t need, and
we’re trashing their system. It’s a very, very big problem. It’s happening everywhere. And it’s like power of Google. I want Google to
make an example. I would be so proud of myself
if I could pull that off. It’s like the
people who know me, I don’t have experience tastes. It’s not like I’m trying
to get rich on you. I started this for a fairly
noble, but guilt ridden sort of thing. And I’m at the point where I’m
seeing how big it’s becoming, how important it is to
literally millions of people and more so for
children and women. I’m like whoa, wouldn’t
that be fabulous if we really made
something happen. Good! All right, let’s flip
and see where we’re at. OK, so it’s not just sneezing. And then, it’s not just the
women getting in on this. So you notice that
there is a link to increase in prostate cancer. OK so real quickly, all
trees are not equal. And I get very
irritated when the city says we’re going to plant
a million new trees. My question, yeah, OK,
what kind of trees? Uh, trees. But trees are like people. Some of us are hard working. Some are lazy. Some are dumb. Some are smart. Some are friendly. Some are not friendly. Trees are the same way. At some point here, I’m talking
basically about tree selection. But I’m also going to talk about
pruning because in an existing landscape like this,
there’s a pruning scheme to take care of most of this. That I just thought
I should throw it up. It was interesting 10 Speed
Press and Berkeley wanted to change the name of the
book from Allergy Free Gardening, which went
through several publications, to the new book which
has a lot of new material to the Allergy Fighting Garden. They want to be more proactive. And the more I think
about it, I liked that because a female
tree is not just there. It’s not that it
doesn’t produce. It’s also pulling
pollen out of the air. Quickly on how that happens, you
have a female the and her roots are in the ground. She’s grounded. When she blooms,
she has millions of little tiny flowers with
feathery little stigmas that are slightly sticky. And those stigmas give off
a slight negative electrical impulse that’s measurable. Pollen grains from
a male get in there and they tumble
around on the wind. They pick up a positive
electrical charge. So when you got
positive and negative, you have what’s called
mutual attraction. Boom, pulls it in there. Mother nature did not
intend for the pollen just to get there by accident. She designed it this way. Very, very clever. But the problem is that
our urban forests are out of balance. We’ve got huge amounts of
males and in some plants we almost never find
a female anymore. I just toss this up because
like if everything else fails, there is the basis
for lawsuits now. And I was an expert
witness on a case in New Zealand that was one, by
the doctor whose daughter went to the school. And it resulted in, he had
to sue the school board to make it happen, but they
removed all these males trees out of the place
and replaced them with the clonal
female red maple. And they’re now big and
beautiful shade trees and they’re not
producing any allergies. I see a lot more of
that down the road. But there was a Minnesota
Law Review article on it, and so the stage is
sort of set for that. But it’d be better if we could
do it without litigation. Go ahead. I just mentioned for a
second the one big change in the United States. When I was a little kid,
almost every street in America was lined with
American elm trees. They’re big beautiful trees
and they grew over and made a canopy over the road. I grew up on Pine
Street, which was line with these American elms. There was only one pine. And street after
street was that way. And then in the
’60s and the ’70s, the Dutch Elm Disease came over. And it started killing these
trees off by the millions fast. And whole cities had no trees. By then, the universities and
the USDA had gotten together and they were developing these
new smart trees, if you will, which were the male clones. And so the USDA put out
more than 100 different named clones of red maple
alone, plus a lot of hybrids, every one of which was a male. This was going on at
the universities too. And so this was the new
litter free landscaping. But they had set the stage
for where we’re at today. All right, so that’s the bottle
brush that I was talking about. I’m going to tell another
story about bottle brush before I’m done here I hope. But go ahead and flip. That was a name
of my second book. And it was my dad who told me he
said you’ve got to write a book and put something about sex
right in the name of it. My dad was a lovely
guy, but he was old sort of– what’s the word– prude. He was a Puritan. He was Swedish and he
didn’t believe in drinking, he didn’t even want
to talk about sex. You know it’s my dad. I was shocked. He was like yeah,
you need to put it. People don’t realize
that plants have sex, much less that one of them’s
a male and one’s a female. And so we came up with that. It got me on NPR. We had some fun with it. That’s a carob tree, and
that’s a female carob. But there are totally
male carobs too, which if you had a child
with peanut allergies, as a legume would cross react
with soy allergies, all these. This is a female bay
tree, very, very rare item and very hard to find. The only person I know
besides me that has one is Lorraine, because
I gave her one. But I looked for years before
I found one of these with fruit on it. Then it took me long time to
figure out how to clone it out, but I’m now doing it. I have an associate
in Europe who is doing these on
a massive number. And yet, the big, big
nurtures are turning out the males, millions of them. Go ahead. This is one grain of
pollen, magnified a lot. And a grain is so
small that if it was in the palm of your hand,
and you’re looking down, you could not see it. You can only see
clumps of pollen. It’s very tiny. It’s probably maybe
15-20 microns in width. But you see it’s not a
warm and fuzzy thing. The very shape of this
thing can cause problems. Go ahead. This is not a very good slide. But what I like about it
is that particular tree is said to be 1,500 years old. It’s planted outside
an old church in Poland and it’s a yew. Yews are 100% male or female. And this particular
tree is a female. Now whoever planted that
yew, if it had been a male, that pollen would
go into the church when they were there
and everything. But no, this tree
was protective. It was trapping the pollen. And 1,500 years it sat there
and it still looks pretty. We should look so good at 1,500. Go ahead, Stewart. All right, now I want to talk
about yews and Podocarpus. And in this area,
you can find both. There seem to be a surprising
amount of the yews in Berkeley. But if you get to the
east coast, lots of them. Now, this is a Podocarpus,
one of the most common plants around, a lot
of them planted at Google. And this one you’ll
notice is, what sex? Female, it’s got fruit on it. This is the one they
don’t want because it’s got the messy fruit. But what’s interesting
about that plant– which is a relative to
this, it just takes more cold weather– is that
that plant is poisonous and this plant is poisonous, but
the fruits are not poisonous. But the seeds are poisonous. But the pollen is poisonous. Now from that plant, they make
Taxol, a chemotherapy drug for breast cancer. From this, they make
[? Podocarpaceae ?] it’s called or something, and it’s a
chemotherapy drug for leukemia. Now chemo drugs have all these. The idea is to kill the cancer
before we kill the patient. So I’ve encountered many people
over the years who are sick. Nobody knows what’s wrong. None of the testings
show what the cause is. I go to their house and
I find a big Podocarpus growing right next
to the bedroom window or hanging over the house. Or in a colder
climate, a big yew is right by the bedroom windows. The pollen is tiny. It’ll go right through a window
screen like it’s not there. And these are very potent drugs. And people are
getting drugged it in a very negative
way by these plants because we’re selling males. We should only be
selling the females. If you would. OK, these are simply
male cones, the opposite of the last slide on a yew. Go ahead, they’re about
to burst full of pollen. Go ahead, flip. That’s a female. This is a male
Podocarpus and I hope the next slide looks better. There, that’s a little better. That gives you an idea of
what these things will do. A real quick story, I hope it’s
quick– a couple years ago, I’m at the National Press
Club in Washington, DC to give a talk about April
being National Gardening Month. I’m also known as quite the
gardener or something, garden guru. So afterwards, there’s party
in the evening at the National Arboretum which is right across
the street from the White House. I don’t know if you’ve
ever been there, but it’s like a giant
glass fabulous greenhouse. And this is longer ago than
that, but it was after 9/11 and they were checking
everybody going in. You had to go through a metal
detector and everything, show ID. So we come into this
huge glass foyer which was about as big as this
room except three times taller. And there were six of
them, huge, huge pots. And in each one,
a huge Podocarpus trained to perfect giant
pine cone if you will. And I had my brother Paul with
me and he knows about my work. And he walked up to the first
one, and he looked at it and he went pop. And he flicked it
with his finger, and a little the cloud
of like dust came off. I was like oh boy. And Paul says I wonder
if they’re all male. I said look at them,
they’re identical. I bet they are. And they were. So Paul goes in and
there’s a young security guard, big strong fella. He’s standing right there. And I said to him
how long do you stand in this particular
spot every day. He said eight hours. I said eight hours. I said just out of
curiosity, do you ever get the feeling
that tree behind you is somehow messing with you. And his eyes got like saucers. He’s like what’s with that tree? So I explained to him when
I just explained to you. And I said there’s no data
on what that will do to you, but if you think it out, it
can’t be a healthy situation. I said the only good
thing I can think is that they only bloom
for about two months. He goes no they don’t. This is a greenhouse. They bloom all year round here. I was like oh boy. I said you know, I think
this should probably be a union issue or something. I gave him my card. And right about then,
somebody brought the head of the arboretum out, a lady. And she said I want to talk
you and took me outside and chewed me out, didn’t
know what I was talking about, causing trouble. I hadn’t even gotten a
free drink or anything yet. I said I’ll be a
good boy, you know. But when I went back in, I
told the guy, if they don’t move him, contact me you know. And so I thought that
was the end of the story. But then six months later, I
got an invite from the place to come give a talk on this. And I got there early. And it was closed. It wasn’t open the public yet. And I got in with my pass
and I roamed all over. First, the foyer,
those trees were gone. And there had been other
different podocarps in there, some males and some females. But now, the whole
place there wasn’t one. They just took them
all out, they never wanted to see them again. So I did do that fellow a favor. But anyhow of this
would be the last thing you would want by
your bedroom window. And why is there
no data on this? Because an allergist
told me years ago. He said the pollen of
the plant is poisonous. If we skin test people,
every single person we test will react to it. It won’t prove anything. I won’t prove allergy. It’s a poison. I said well OK, I don’t care
if it’s an allergy or a poison, it’s not healthy. And that’s all. All right, go ahead and file on. This is a very typical–
this is down in LA– but they’re very typical. You’ve got Windows that
actually open by a living room. You’ve got male
Podocarpus on both sides. And when they bloom just when
the weather’s nice and warm and you want some fresh air. You open them up and that’s
what you get, all right. This is what you get. This was taken
through my microscope. And it’s a little fuzzy
here, but it was clear when I took it. What is over– what
are these grids? What’s the grid? Anybody know? Oh, you’re a smart lady. Yeah, it’s a piece
of window screen. I put a little piece
of window screen. I shook some of
this pollen on it. I wanted to see. I knew it wasn’t going
to be very protective. It’s not protective at all. You could probably put
a thousand at the time. Go ahead. Sometimes I give a talk
and I have to ask that. I get a big crowd and
nobody figures it out. She’s the mother of
a Google employee, so I guess passed on her brains. All right, on the
Isle of Guernsey, which if you’ve never
been there, do go, a lovely place–
which is a Channel Islands in between
England and France, there’s a fellow who has been
following my work for years. And he owns a
large nursery, used to be called Queux Patio Plants. But I think it’s now just
Queux Plants Center, Q-U-E-U-X. It’s old Guernsey
French or something. And he made tags
with a woman shape and put the opals
numbers on them. And he tagged every single
plant in his nursery. I said well, who’s
going to buy anything that you’ve got nine or
ten on, that’s the worst. And on the back, it
explains what the system is. He said while I want people
to know what they’re getting. And it turned out that people
liked this system very much. And in truth, he doesn’t
sell many nine to tens, seven to eights. But the people have the choice. And as he restocks, he’s
trying to get more and more one to five, so to speak. But his name is Nigel Clarke. He’s doing something
really remarkable. It’s starting to
spread into Europe. In South Carolina, we have
a guy named Grady Roscoe. He’s doing the same thing. We don’t have anybody
in California yet, but hopefully we will. This is a male cedar. Go ahead and flip again. This is a female. They almost look like
the males and females. This is the one that
produces no pollen. This is a male. This here it is a male willow
tree, a weeping willow. When I was as young as say 20,
25, almost everyone weeping will I saw was a female clone. Now everywhere I go,
they’re a male, very few of the female ones. The females are quite
beautiful, but they’ve now switched to the male. Go ahead if you would. These are called Skyrocket
junipers, again by the windows. They’re all male. Go ahead. This is a blue moffet. It’s a female. It looks about the same. Harder to fine. Go ahead, no pollen. This is another clone, I
don’t remember the name now, but again, males. All right, this
is female juniper and those are the berries. Anyhow, here’s a couple
of red cedars or junipers, very common landscapes. This is female. This a male those are
little tiny pollen cones. At certain times,
twice a year now, I guess because of global
warming or something, the males are now blooming
twice a year in the cities. They’re blooming in
the spring and they’re blooming again in the fall. The females, are
trapping pollen. Go ahead. This is a female tree. It’s an African sumac,
hard to find, hard to buy. Go ahead. This, OK there I
picked that out there. This is a Chinese pistache
tree, Pistache chinensis. I have seen these trees 70
foot tall and 60 feet wide that were male. And every time a puff
of wind hit it, it just looks like the tree was
on fire there was so much smoke coming off. Now bear in mind
that’s male, and that is related– direct kissing
cousin to poison oak, poison ivy, poison sumac,
poison varnish tree, extremely allergenic pollen. And yet, last time I was
here, I found at least 200 of these that had been planted
in the last couple years. And 100% were grafted trees. And they were all males. But they’re still small. And we could regraft these. So Paul says talk
about Bruce Jenner. I didn’t make the
Bruce Jenner slide. But Bruce is giving himself
a sex change, male to female. We could do the same
thing with trees. We can graft it to female wood. We could change it. It would’ve been a lot simpler
to plant the right thing in the first place. But dealing with the
existing problems, we don’t want to wipe
out all the trees. There are things to do. This a female Chinese pistache
with little red berries on it. The berries are red. They’re ripe at Christmas
time, quite attractive. I don’t know why people
don’t use them anyhow. They’re prettier,
but they don’t. Female mulberry,
again a rare plant. The males huge
amounts of pollen. Go ahead. That’s the male. Go ahead. This is a female red maple and
those are the little feathery stigmas. And then show the male. Yeah, there’s the male. That trees only job
is to put out pollen. Go ahead. This is a Lombardy poplar
tree, tall skinny ones. I’ll show you a slide
from Google where they’re planting small ones now. That’s a male clone top to
bottom, a lot of pollen. Go ahead. The Olive family, the
first time I was here, I didn’t see olives. But today walking around, I
saw a bunch of olives planted. They’re fairly young. They’re a clone. They’re one that doesn’t make
olives or very few, Swan Hill, Majestic Beauty. And the reason they
don’t make many is they’re basically all males. Now, this large family
of plants includes ash, privvets,
many, many things. There’s a huge amount of
cross-reactive allergies goes with all that. Go ahead, Stewart. OK, so what could you get? You could get react with latex,
tomatoes, kiwis, potatoes, peaches, probably a bunch
of others, birch pollen. They’re planning
lot of birch here. The birch reacts with half the
foods you eat it seems like. These aren’t always just
allergies with what’s called sensitivities. But what difference
does it make? As long as you apple and you
feel miserable, it’s not good. That’s olive pollen. All right, now that is
a new clone owned by me. I say owned by me. It’s not patented. This a little one of them. I’ve been looking for this
tree for, oh man, 20 years. This a desert olive. That’s what the fruit
on it looks like. This is a female. And you can’t buy these yet,
but I’ve grown several hundred of them. It took me years and
years to find a female. It’s a native plant. It grows out in the deserts. They’re very hard to find. I found males. But anyhow, outside of Barstow
in a gulch, away on a dirt road a few years ago, I found
a stand of females. And I brought back
some wood and started growing these from cuttings. But this makes a beautiful
medium, small size tree. It’s as drought tolerant
as you could possibly get. They grow out there with
no water at all almost. It’s hardy into Canada. It’ll take extreme cold. There should be
millions and millions of these desert girls used. And it is related to olive. And the birds like those. Stewart. AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE]? TOM OGREN: Yeah it
is, but it’s like if you were to eat an
olive off the tree. I don’t know if
you ever done that, but you don’t want to do that. There’s a whole process
you’ve got to go through. This is another olive, privets. This is a chinensis. This is a rarer female. You could see again a
little olive like fruits. This is that same
one that they’re planting at Google, the
male olives, Swan Hill. You could see the pollen
on the leaves on that. Flip again, and
see where we’re at. And you could see pollen
on the leaves there too. Now, olive pollen is
exceptionally allergenic. I, who do not have
allergies and look at pollen on slides all the time on
the microscope, whenever I handle any olive pollen,
I try to be very careful. And I still end up
sneezing usually. And on a grain per grain,
it’s exceptionally potent. Go ahead. The ash is of the olive family. This is called shiny xylosma. And there’s some here at Google. In California, it’s
all over the place. And I gave a talk
up in San Bernardino once to a group of
master gardeners. And afterwards– I
mentioned this plant. This is a male
with male flowers. A 90-year-old
botanist came up to me and he said do you know
that every single xylosma in California is a male. And I said I’ve know
that for a decade, but you’re the first
person I’ve ever met that noticed besides me. Flip. There are no females
in California. This is a female
hedge of wax myrtle. A female hedge is a
very protective item. It traps pollen coming in. It produces no pollen. That hedge could be
taller if they want it, but it’s very effective. Pollarding, Pollarding and this
is not the most attractive, but I just use that. But anyhow, a lot
of the big trees could be pollarded every year. And if they pollard them,
you will get no pollen. And in London, they now
are pollarding large areas of downtown London
with the London Planes which are sycamores, and
produce quite a bit of pollen. But they pollard them
and then they get none. And the reason is, you
pollard them and they get all this new growth in the spring. But the pollen doesn’t
come off the new growth. It comes off the second year
growth and some trees three year growth. So depending on the
species of tree, there’s a pruning system where
we could prune away the pollen if we want, if we have
the will to do it. So this is an alder. These are all male
cones in the winter. Alder’s bloom early,
produce loads of pollen. If we, in the winter, before
this picture was taken, say we just pruned that much off
the ends of the branches. We wouldn’t have any
pollen then next season. Go ahead. Alder relative No,
not alder relative. This is an oak. Oak makes the– these
are all male flowers. It makes those on
a second year wood. It makes the females on
first year wood, interesting So the more we prune the
oak, the messier she’d be would become because
of more acorns. But picture those things are
trapping pollen and no pollen. So an oak that we did
this to, would have lots of acorns but no pollen. These are birch catkins. These are the male catkins. And they form the year before. So if you look at a
birch tree in November, it’s already got the
male parts formed. They haven’t swollen up
and released the pollen. That’ll happen next spring. But again they’re on the ends. And so if we sheer
those ends, boom, there’s next year, that birch. Google all over the place,
has planted typically three at a time right by the doors. That means it comes in
the room, one the worst pollens you could use. But those could all
be sheered every year, and that would
stop that Go ahead. I don’t know how
I had that twice. This shot I just put in because
this is my idea of everything in it is allergenic. The junipers are all male. Somewhere in there, there’s
male coyote bush, a native, but it’s all male,
a ragweed relative. The trees are male
and in the back there’s another type of trees. And then in the
very back, there’s Italian cypress, which used
to have both sexes on them, but now they’ve managed to
turn on them in the males too. So everything in it
is allergy causing. Go ahead. Let’s get to Google. All right, so one
of the things we want to do if we want to
eliminate health problems is we want diversity. It’s like say you wanted
a really great workforce, you don’t just want men. You want men, you want women. You don’t want
everybody to be 20. You want different ages. You don’t want everybody
to be lily white, you want all nationalities
if you can get them. Diversity, it’s a
good, wonderful thing. It’s very important
in landscaping. Now here we go, this is in
front of some buildings. Every single tree is not the
high allergy tree, but not a low allergy tree,
some flowering pears. But every single tree
is the same exact tree. On the next one,
this sort of scheme is done over and over here. OK, so you walk down block after
block, and when I walked down, there was a lot of
pollen on the sidewalk. And every single one
is a liquid amber tree. Now one or two liquid ambers
on the block is not a problem. Every tree on a block
being a liquid amber, now you’ve got allergy problem. You’ve created what allergists
call pollen corridor. We’ve got a lot of those here. Then again those
could be pruned. But to do it from scratch,
this is not how you do it. These are the birch trees
by entrances or something. Go ahead, more birch trees
by entrances, male podocarpus by doors. What else have you got? Male poplar trees just planted
that’ll grow very big very fast, male junipers. I didn’t find any females. Go ahead and all these males
Chinese pistache trees. Maybe my number
one concern would be to deal with those
before they get real big, otherwise this could
be like pollen city. Let’s see what we’ve got next. OK, here’s the bottle brush,
again right by the door. Now bottle brush pollen
does not travel far. If you put it 20, 30 feet
further away or something, not a problem unless you
walked right into it. But by the door is
not a good situation. And male restios, these
are newly planted. Go ahead. Ah, a female ash tree. There are number of ash trees
around here that are female. But if you look at those,
they’re huge trees. They were maybe planted by
birds or squirrels or something a long, long time ago. Maybe they came
with the property. And this is typical,
when I go to a landscape, the female trees are the
oldest biggest things. They were planted back
when they grew trees from sees rather than asexual
tissue cultures or something like today. Go ahead. But that’s an air
cleaner tree there. Ah, where we ate the
last time I was here, they had this big bamboo. Bamboo is monocarpic. Anybody know what monocarpic
would mean in Latin? Mono, one, carpic,
life, so one life. That bamboo may
live for 100 years, and it will only bloom one time. Once it blooms,
what happens to it? It dies, right. So we don’t know how
long it will live. But since it’s only
going to bloom one time, we consider that pretty
allergy friendly. And that is at Google. All right so, I googled this and
came up with this– Larry Page. He says he is not interested
in you doing 10% better. He wants 10 times better. Well OK, so how about instead
of replacing a couple male trees and plant a couple token
females, how about you actually like did a serious
landscape job. How about there’s apparently
a big Google, whole new campus being put in
somewhere near here. And they’re getting new
buildings, new landscaping. How about from the get go
they do this like this shining example where people
would be like oh yeah, this is like the healthiest
place in the world to live. I also noticed that Google is
number one on Forbes America’s best employees list, or it was. I don’t know. But I’m impressed
with the place. It’s fun here. I like your Google bikes. I like the Google food. Google has a
wonderful reputation. It does. It sparkles with the
intellectualism and creativity. Here’s a few native plants. This is a male coyote bush
and then we have a female. They will say, we are
landscaping with natives. But bear in mind, almost
all plants I’m talking about are native to some
part of this country. And so, whether
it’s native or not, they’ve totally manipulated
all the natives. This plant ground
sil or coyote bush is very drought
tolerant, good plant. They sell six different
clones, all of which are males. It’s also a ragweed
relative, so the pollen. All right, go another one. I guess I’m like– I was
worried about the time, so I’m like talking fast. But I’m not talking fast. No. I was camping and this came up. And I’d only seen him in books. Anybody know what he is? It was in southern Arizona. I was with my son in
law and he came up and we were teasing him
with cheese, which he came up and ate, very cool looking. It’s coatimundi and they’ve
got a tail about this long. He can run up and
down trees, and he’s very tough, cute little fellow. I’m an animal lover, so I
just had to throw him in. I guess I’m about for questions. Where we are at? Oh, I was suppose
to tell this story. So I’m giving a talk in Anaheim,
Anaheim Convention Center. I’m told about the bottle brush. A lady came up
and she says to me she says I started to cry when
I heard what you were saying about the bottle brush. I said why. She said well, I can’t tell
you I’m embarrassed by it. I said well, tell me it’ll
be our secret you know. I’ve been sharing it with
the world ever since. She says we had this
dog, a golden lab. He’s just a wonderful dog. And she said the dog would
come into the living room, then he would sneeze. And then he would
shake himself and then I would start sneezing. My husband would start
sneezing and our children would start sneezing. It seemed to get
worse and worse. And she said finally we
decided he had to go. And it was a fairly old
dog and I was thinking, oh I don’t want to hear
any more about that part. Then she said, our
backyard is very open. It’s just lawn. And then in the corner of it,
there’s a big bottle brush and the branches go
right to the ground. And that’s the only
shade in the yard. And the dog would sit until
the tree all the time. Well, bottle brush
pollen is tiny and shaped like little ninja stars,
sticking to his fur. So he was come in and he was
getting allergic reaction and shaking it. So anyhow, they got rid of
the family dog rather than the bottle bush tree
which is a pity. But I don’t know why that’s
why I keep telling that story, but it’s just illustrative
of acting without quite having all the information. AUDIENCE: Yeah,
I have a question about all the pollutants
the threes take in. TOM OGREN: Yes. AUDIENCE: A city
like Chico that has orange trees as their
street trees, which I thought were fabulous. Are they–? TOM OGREN: So this
is the question that I don’t like to be asked? AUDIENCE: Oh sorry. TOM OGREN: Asked
by my own sister. This opens up a sort
of a nasty can worms, because I was asked the
same question on a BBC radio last fall. And I sort of fudged. But I’ll go ahead
and address that. I would say that the closer
you live to that freeway, the less healthy those
oranges are for you to eat. There’s no other way
to figure this out. I would say that if we took
a microbiologists or chemist and had him test it, it would
be proven rather quickly. I would also say that growing
fruit in your own yard is a wonderful way to
introduce children to the fact that trees are not
just ornamental. And I would also say that most
of the oranges that you’re talking about are
seedless oranges, meaning they’re producing
parthenocarpic fruit, meaning it’s seedless fruit. It didn’t even need
to get pollinated. It just makes fruit anyhow. Yeah, I’m afraid that is the
drawback to urban agriculture if you want. And I used to do
community gardens and I still think
it’s a great idea. It’s just is it the
healthiest thing in the world. I’m not sure about
that part of it. But you could do it
organically and at least it would be an improvement. Anybody’s that’s
listening to me, if what I’m saying makes
sense, join with me and help me to make something
happen right here at Google. In 2008, the California
Department of Public health put out their seven year
plan initiative for asthma. I was one of the 25 experts
that they brought in. It says in the plan that
we shouldn’t plant anymore male trees, shrubs, and we
should plan a lot more females. It said that the landscapes
at all the schools, at all the hospitals, at
all the public places should be allergy friendly. But that was 2008 and it
still isn’t happening. I doubt is my last ditch. I’ll probably be pushing
this one way or another just because I feel
strongly about it. But if I could make
something happen just by virtue of being
here– and I’m here because Lorine invited
me– then a very wonderful powerful thing– and this
is a small group of us– but I appreciate you that
have stayed with me here. And it’s impossible
to give a talk without getting some
feedback from the audience. And it’s like
everybody that’s here is giving me some good feedback
and so I thank you for that. But I’ll stop right there. All right. [APPLAUSE] Thank you.

4 thoughts on “Tom Ogren: “Optimize an Allergy Fighting Landscape” | Talks at Google

  1. I have pretty terrible seasonal allergies. Some days, they are absolutely murderous and it'll literally feel like I have a respiratory infection (doctor says otherwise). Claritin hasn't really been helping. After watching this, I went outside and whaddya' know, there is (what I believe to be) a small podocarpus in my front yard and a huge one in a neighbor's yard nearby!

  2. Though I suffer from allergies myself, I love plants and gardens. I am fascinated at the moment with the clean air study by NASA for indoor environments, but had not considered previous to this talk the consequences of outdoor pollen, nor how to mitigate them.

    I second Mr. Ogren's challenge to Google. I sincerely thank him and the company for hosting this informative talk. I look forward to what Google does as I look to what I can do as well.

  3. Thank you. Shocking to learn how our green spaces are allergenic by design. I hope Google will help get the word out!

  4. very intersting and important topic but why did he have to take so many valium before that one hour rant!  danggg

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