Every little breeze can make the sensitive sneeze.

I have never thought of our garden as a tearjerker until a recent visit by a friend had her eyes streaming within minutes of walking through it. It wasn’t the sight of the glorious gardenia bushes, jasmine vine and lilies that moved her thus, but the reaction it caused, sending her into an eye-watering, sneezing, sniffling and itching frenzy.

Not being susceptible to hay fever, it struck me therein lies peril for the unsuspecting gardener. People who sneeze from being around pollen have an allergy to it and these generally occur seasonally with the plants that produce pollen.

Unlike animals, plants are stationary and use a process called pollination to reproduce. Pollen is grainy or flaky and is the male reproductive cells present on all flowering plants. Plants with bright flowers, like roses, have larger, waxy pollen and rely on insects to carry their pollen from one plant to another. Grasses and trees have much smaller, lighter pollen and rely on wind currents to carry it, which can cause problems for humans who inhale it.

The immune system of people with pollen allergies sees it as a hostile intruder and releases antibodies and chemicals (histamine) to attack the invader. It’s the histamines that cause the classic allergy symptoms of sneezing, itchy eyes and runny nose. If the sight of plants and trees in bloom has you running for the tissue box, here’s a planting guide.

What to plant if you’re allergenic

Flowers: Begonia, cactus, chenille, clematis, columbine, crocus, daffodil, dusty miller, hosta, geranium, , impatiens, iris, lily, pansy, periwinkle, petunia, phlox, rose, salvia, snapdragon, thrift, tulip, verbena, zinnia and hypoallergenic sunflower seeds, which grow to 1.8m tall — the pollen is too heavy to be spread easily, such as Apricot Twist, Infrared Mix and The Joker.
Shrubs: Azalea, boxwood, hibiscus, hydrangea, viburnum.
Trees: Apple, cherry, Chinese fan palm (female), fern pine (female), dogwood, English holly (female), Bradford pear, crepe myrtle, hardy rubber tree, magnolia, pear, plum, red maple (female).
Grasses: St. Augustine.

What to avoid

There’ll be tears before bedtime if you put any of these plants in an allergenic’s yard.

Flowers/herbs: Amaranth (pigweed), chamomile, chrysanthemums, daisies, goldenrod, ordinary sunflowers.
Shrubs/vines: Cypress, jasmine vine, juniper, wisteria.
Trees: Alder, ash (male), aspen (male), beech, birch, box elder (male), cedar (male), cottonwood (male), elm, hickory, red and silver maples (male), mulberry (male), oak, olive, palm (male), pecan, pine, poplar (male), sycamore, walnut, willow (male).
Grasses: Bermuda, fescue, Johnson, June, orchard, perennial rye, redtop, salt grass, sweet vernal, Timothy.
Weeds: Cocklebur, ragweed, Russian thistle, sagebrush.
For a thorough guide to allergy friendly gardening, see Plants that Make You Sniffle and Sneeze by Carol Lerner.

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