There is a tree that I hanker after at this time of year. One is in the next street and I eye it up covetously wondering if my husband would notice if one suddenly appeared on our front verge, next to the peppermint.
The tree of my dreams is the London Plane Tree, Platanus Xhispanica, though it is only recently that I discovered it is known by many South Africans as the "itchy ball" tree, due to the itchiness of the balls and the childhood practice of putting these balls down one another's tops and trousers and howling with laughter when the itching begins.
The Plane Tree is an amazing example of resilience. It can survive in an urban environment despite poor soil, vandalism and exhaust fumes. It tolerates drought and extreme heat. It provides shade in the summer and urban colour and texture in winter.
As a result, the Plane Tree greens many Southern Australian inner cities, as well as those of New York and Cape Town.
But what about the 'itchy ball'?
The 'itchy ball' is the tree's seed pod which disintegrates in early spring, releasing hairs which irritate if they are touched or breathed in. Young leaves have similar hairs which become airborne, dispersing into open windows and being circulated by fans. Hairs are sucked into vehicles and picked up on shoes. They find hiding places and appear, attaching to your clothes and hair, on a windy day. To pollen allergy sufferers, the Plane Tree carries a lethal weapon which it discharges randomly around September.
So extreme is this event that some mature trees have been removed for medical reasons. Other victims are not aware that they have an allergy, such is the resemblance to the common cold. Find yourself sneezing, with a runny and congested nose, a sore throat or a cough and itchy watery eyes, and it is quite likely that you have an allergic reaction.
My eyes tickle as I write this and I imagine thin prickly hairs stuck to the inside of my clothes. It is a horrifying thought that my South African born husband might put itchy balls down my top or trousers.
Best not leave it to chance. I will make do with my peppermint and fancy the itchy ball tree from afar.