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Allan designs and plants flowering gardens in Montreal, Zone 5 [USDA Zone 4] .

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Flowers and Allergies

When I was twelve, I summered with my parents at a cottage near a lake. Beside the property lay a field brimming with wildflowers. There I  would go, every Friday evening, before supper, to harvest a few flowers for the dinner table. On one occasion, a neighbor saw me returning from the field and reprimanded me for harvesting a beautiful golden feathery flower. She insisted that it was bad for allergies, whatever that meant. The flower was Goldenrod, and when it grows in random waves in the meadow, it is lush and beautiful. Today, I am no longer a fan of this flower, because so many members of my family suffer from allergic reactions to it, however, I do acknowledge its stately appearance.

Over the years, I have learned all about allergies and have seen how exposure to pollens and fragrances can affect a person’s health. For example, I had to stop using after-shave and cologne, when I married, because their fragrances, no matter how sublime, triggered asthma–like symptoms in my wife's lungs. Today, I make sure that she is not in the kitchen when I percolate coffee, and only use bleach in the laundry when she is out of the house. Both of these substances affect her breathing adversely.

On one occasion, when my daughters were teenagers, I harvested a bouquet of peonies and brought them indoors. Because of the extreme heat outside, the air conditioner was running and all of our windows were shut tightly. Within less than 3 minutes, both daughters and my wife found it hard to breathe. For our daughters’ weddings, we instructed the florists not to use lilies in the flower arrangements because the ladies in my life are allergic to their aroma. When guests bring flower bouquets with lilies, we snip off their stamens immediately and as soon as the guests leave, we discard the flower altogether. Recently, I heard about a gardener who had to dig up and discard her immense collection of Asiatic Lilies because they made her dog sick.

Research into allergy causing plants has brought horticultural educator Thomas Leo Ogren. to conclude that “certain flowers never make anyone sneeze, that some flowers make a few folks sneeze, and that some flowers are devastating to people”. Although there are trees and shrubs that can cause allergic reactions, I focus on flowers because I cannot do very much about the air-borne allergy-triggering pollen from trees that waft into my backyard from somewhere in the neighborhood.

Anyone allergic to ragweed should avoid planting Echinacea, a relative of the ragweed plant. For that same reason, Solidago [Goldenrod] and Chamomile should be avoided. Research has discovered that about 20% of people already allergic to ragweed will also test positive for allergy to Goldenrod, a reaction usually found among those who grow Goldenrod in their own gardens. Research has also uncovered a similar allergic response to Chamomile.

In hot climates, such as Florida, Hibiscus can trigger allergic reactions, although it is not the plant itself that causes the reaction but the whitefly that is attracted to it. When it lands on the Hibiscus, the fly releases an insect dander and, at the same time, secretes a sticky sugar-based excretory waste. This waste breeds a sooty mold. Both the mold spores and the dander will trigger allergic reactions.

Anyone with an onion allergy may also be allergic to the sap of any kind of lily, daffodils, narcissus, iris, tulip, tiger lily, day lily, lily of the valley, agapanthus, alstromeria, aloe, and agave. Direct contact with sap is not always necessary to get the rash. Sometimes a skin rash will occur from mere casual contact with lily leaves or from bulbs.

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Reader Comments (5)

I have the same problem Allan, in fact my husband and children also have allergies. They are difficult for a gardener because you are never sure what is causing the problem.


May 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEileen

Excellent article. It was helpful and informative. hope to see more greats posts like this.

May 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFlowers

Wow ! I didn't know people could be sooo allergic! Even to lilies!

May 12, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterirrigationsystems

Great post, very informative. I have terrible allergies, but refuse to give up on certain plants. Still think Goldenrod is maligned for ragweed's issues . . . especially considering the powerful ecological role that Goldenrods have in providing high protein nectar that allows pollinators to survive cold winters. So I try to incorporate it into as many projects as I can, though now I'll locate them farther from buildings.

May 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterThomas Rainer

Your information was awesome about allergies. Thank goodness I have none, at this present time but I do have family members. I will have to remember when I make my flower arrangements and have family and friends over to be careful. I very much have enjoyed your blog. Look forward to checking in again so. Have a great day on purpose.

May 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterZinniaDC

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