Skip to main content

You make this possible. Support our independent, nonprofit newsroom today.

Give Now

Have you noticed all the cotton fluff in the air?

caption: Cotton fluff that wafted through the air in Seattle this week.
Enlarge Icon
Cotton fluff that wafted through the air in Seattle this week.
KUOW Photo/Kyle Norris

"What's up with all the white fluff?" That was a question we recently answered in our latest SoundsQs podcast.

A mom called us the other day, wanting to know: What’s up with all this cottony fluff flying around the Seattle area?

We went to the Urban Horticulture Center in Seattle’s Laurelhurst neighborhood to speak with Christina Pfeiffer, a horticulture educator.

She said this year isn’t necessarily different from past years … but that certain conditions have converged to produce this great cotton explosion.

The cotton we see floating in the air is the release of the seeds from black poplar and black cottonwood trees, she said, which fly off their branches when they are mature, and the pod is dried. A good wind can whisk them away.

Think of it as akin to dandelion fluff, she said. This is a tree version of that.

On years when it’s mistier this time of year, we may not see as many fluff puffs floating about, or it might just take longer for the seeds to disband. This year, warm weather + wind + maturity of seed indicates a quicker process.

The cottony material is not an allergenic, Pfeiffer said. Pollen causes the allergies; these are seeds. (People may blame these seeds, but they are likely affected by invisible grass pollen coming in.)

The cotton-like material we are seeing is a cottony fiber (that’s a botanical reference) and its Greek name translates to “hairy fruited.”

“They are harmless, although some people consider them a nuisance,” Pfeiffer said.

And ephemeral. Because by tomorrow, they may be gone.

If you have a question about the region for the SoundQs team to answer, leave us a voicemail at 206-616-3805. Or ask us via the form below.


Why you can trust KUOW