Are You Allergic to Your Garden?

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Summer of the sneeze. For the 1 in 5 Canadians who suffer from allergies, there is hope.  

The garden is a man’s world, thanks to what horticulturalist and author Thomas Leo Ogren calls horticultural sexism: the practice of selling “tidier” male plants that don’t shed seeds and fruit like their female counterparts.

Of course, males are not as innocent as they seem. They disperse pollen and, with increasingly fewer female plants to catch the fine dustlike particles, allergy and asthma rates in North America have soared.

“Female trees are like natural air cleaners, but there’s a lack of them in the planted landscape,” Ogren says.

As allergy specialist Dr. Ross Chang, president of the B.C. Society of Allergy and Immunology, explains, allergies result from a hypersensitivity of the immune system, which is less active with age, though “some patients … develop and have worsening allergies in their 50s and older because of skin, nasal and bronchial mucosal hyperactivity.”

Chang says rising plant allergy rates may be due to horticultural sexism in urban areas and that “allergies in general are projected to continue to increase over the next five to 10 years.”

Scroll through for Ogren’s expert tips for green thumbs to identify male and female bushes and shrubs and how, in general, we can all do our part to make our yards less allergenic and make our outdoors a healthier place.

How to make your garden a healthier place

1. If you look at a juniper or a holly bush at a nursery and there are no berries on it, it’s probably a male.

2. If you have it growing in your yard and it never grows any fruit, then it’s definitely suspect.

3. Most of the flowers and perennials we plant are fine. We just need to pay greater attention to our shrubs and make smart choices on those.

4. Don’t put allergenic plants under windows or by doors; pollen will go right through a screen like it’s not even there. And the closer you are to the allergenic plants, the worse your symptoms.

NEXT: Plants On The Allergy Scale

Thomas Lee Ogren recently teamed up with allergy medication maker Reactine to raise awareness about the link between the sex of a plant and the potential for allergies. The Ogren Plant Allergy Scale (OPALS) ranges from one to 10, with plants and trees scoring a one being the least allergenic.

You’re Pretty Safe

Hosta 1

Johnny jump-up 1

Periwinkle 1

Anthurium 2

Your Nose May Start to Tingle

Ranunculus 5

Marigolds 6

Poinsettia 6

Oakleaf Hydrangea 7


You Better Get the Tissues

Goldenrod 8

Bottlebrush 9

Male Silver Maple 9

Fountain grass 10