Flowers are a mixed blessing, for allergy sufferers. They may be beautiful to behold, but many come with irritating pollen that can trigger itchy eyes, runny noses, and general miserableness. Fortunately not all flowers trigger allergies. It seems the more hybridized the plant, the less likely it will have a high level of pollen and the less irritating it will be. But there are still plenty of old-fashioned, high pollen flowers being grown. Thank goodness, or bees and other pollinators would be going hungry.
It is not usually the showiest flowers that cause allergies, although some do. Large, brightly colored flowers tend to be magnets for bees and other pollinators and their pollen is often too heavy to float in the air, causing allergic reactions. The plants to really look out for are those whose pollen is light and dusty enough to be transferred by the wind. However that is not a rule, as you will see from the list of allergy plants below. Also, when any flowers are brought into the confinement of indoors, they can be even more irritating.
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At the top of the list of allergy plants would be most of the plants in the Aster, or Daisy, family (Asteraceae). Even though most are not wind pollinated, many people with allergies are very sensitive to their pollen Although hay fever symptoms can seem worse in the spring, with the emergence of new plants, it won't end there. Even late season bloomers, like Asters, can be irritants.
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Baby's Breath (Gypsophila) is popular in cottage gardens and shows up in many florist bouquets. Although the flowers are small, they can pack a big punch of pollen. It may seem counter intuitive, but the double flowered variety is a better choice than the single flowered types. The double flowers are hybrids that have a low level of pollen. It also helps that all those petals prevent the pollen from flying off.
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Dahlia flowers are showy enough to attract many insect pollinators, but these flowers are members of the Aster family and, as such, have pollen that can cause an outbreak of hay fever symptoms throughout summer.
If the Aster family includes some of your favorite flowers, take heart. There are some exceptions. The hybrids classified as "formal doubles" have virtually no pollen. These are the fluffy flowers with lots of petals and stamens that have evolve into pollen-less staminoids.
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Also in the Aster family, daisies may look pristine and tame, but they are very high pollen producers and you will probably see many bees visiting these plants. Although the pollen is not wind transferred, people with allergies should avoid getting too close.Continue to 5 of 10 below.
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One of the flashiest members of the Aster family is the Gerber Daisy (Gerbera jamesonii). For all its bling and beauty, it still posses a pollen that can set off sneezing and sniffling. Take care before your bring a bouquet of these into the house.
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Yet another Aster family member, chamomile can cause double trouble. The plants themselves are producers of irritating pollen, and the flowers are often used to make tea, which can still harbor some irritants.
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The Aster family resemblance is strong in chrysanthemums, as is the allergy inducing pollen. Mums help stretch the allergy season well into the fall.
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Ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia) is not considered a garden flower, but it is included here because it is so often confused with goldenrod (Solidago), which is a lovely garden plant that has gotten a bum rap. Goldenrod is not wind pollinated and does not irritate allergies. Ragweed with its weedy, inconspicuous flowers, is pollinated by the wind. Since ragweed tends to grow alongside roads and in vacant lots, the problem is all the more exacerbated. Ragweed is in the Aster family.Continue to 9 of 10 below.
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The sheer size of sunflowers' center disk tells us they have a large amount of pollen and this pollen is dispersed by the wind. Because sunflowers are not fragrant, they often get overlooked as allergy plants.
There are some pollen-free sunflower varieties, like 'Apricot Twist' and 'Joker', that are listed as hypoallergenic, because their pollen is too heavy to be wind borne.
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Since most spring flowering bulbs are not the culprits causing allergy symptoms early in the season, take a look at your trees. Many trees are monoecious, meaning they have separate male and female flowers. For the pollen to get from the male flower to the female flower, it has to travel and wind is often the easiest way to disburse it.
It is not the showy, spring flowering trees that are triggering your allergies. Most of those have heavy pollen and their flowers attract insects for pollination. The major culprits to watch for are:
- Arizona cypress
- Box elder
- Mountain cedar
- Mountain elder