Extension Educator, Horticulture
A snort, a sneeze, followed by two sniffles. Ah it's the call of the allergy sufferer. It's estimated that 50 million people suffer each year from allergies. Many of us look forward to spring, but for others it can mean a season of suffering from sneezing, runny nose and itchy watery eyes. Allergy symptoms range from being an annoyance to life threatening. Although there are many things that people can be allergic to including pet dander, work, mold, and fragrances, pollen is a common allergen.
Not all plants have the same likelihood of causing allergies. Plants that are wind pollinated have the most potential to create allergies. These plants produce vast quantities of pollen grains that are carried by the wind to hopefully a receptive female flower. Unfortunately the cloud of pollen can also end up in our noses and eyes. Wind pollinated plants tend to have relatively small green or brown flowers. The flowers may go completely unnoticed by most people. A good example is ragweed, a common allergy producing plant.
Most people blame goldenrod for their allergies when it is more likely the ragweed that blooms at the same time that is causing their symptoms. Goldenrod is insect pollinated. Insect pollinated plants tend to have heavy sticky pollen so it will stick well to the insect as it travels from flower to flower. These plants are much less likely to cause allergies since the pollen isn't in the air. Bright, highly colored, showy flowers are usually insect pollinated.
People's sensitivity to certain plants can vary widely so always discuss your allergies with your health care professional. Plants shed pollen at different times of the year so a look at the calendar might help to narrow down the culprit.
Here are a few trees with allergy causing potential: ash (male), cottonwood, elm, hickory, juniper/cedar, mulberry, oaks, walnut, pine, poplar (male), sycamore, Russian olive, and willow. Other allergy producing plants can include: Kentucky bluegrass (if allowed to flower), orchard grass, timothy grass, castor bean, pigweed and lamb's quarter.
Since many of these plants are throughout our communities it's not practical to completely eliminate the source of pollen but if you are adding plants to your landscape and are an allergy sufferer, you may want to consider the allergy potential of a plant before planting.
Once you determine which plants may be causing your symptoms, you can then figure the worst and best times to work in the garden. If you do go outside during the worst times, reduce your exposure by wearing gloves, a long sleeved shirt, hat and sunglasses or goggles. Also wearing a pollen mask may be necessary. After working outside take a shower and thoroughly wash hair and clothes.
Certain garden chores may have to be delegated to others. Such as:
In the mean time look to the bees to tell you which flowers are best for a more sneezeless spring.