Thanks to everything you’ve read on our blog (OK, and maybe elsewhere), you’ve decided to add plants to your indoor environment. It’s a smart move and with spring around the corner, it’s perfect timing.
But for the one out of ten people who suffer from asthma and allergies, you need to make your choices carefully.
We’ve known since the landmark 1989 NASA study we quote so often here that plants can greatly improve our indoor air quality by filtering harmful toxins and pollutants – things like benzene, formaldehyde, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
But many plants also produce pollen as part of their reproductive process. This is a nightmare for people sensitive to pollen. Mold can also trigger serious allergic reactions. Pollen and molds are waking up now that winter’s dark days and cold temperatures are over. Other plants are just plain dust magnets, which also helps clean our air.
All of this becomes even more critical if you live in a new or retrofitted energy-efficient home with airtight window seals and improved insulation. If there are any indoor allergy triggers, it’s a lot tougher for them to escape.
You’ll need to make smart choices about your houseplants if you or anyone in your household is affected. If you aren’t especially sensitive but don’t like the idea of dealing with all this, we have a suggested list of the best and worst houseplants to choose for allergy sufferers. We use many of the plants on the best list for our Plantscaping clients, and after 40 years in business we’ve put them to the test.
BEST HOUSEPLANTS FOR ALLERGIES
In general, look for plants with larger, smooth leaves. The bonus: these are generally easy-care plants too! Be sure to gently wipe down the leaves with a mild soap and water. They will catch dust which is good, but too much dust cuts down on the available light and that’s no bueno. Water ONLY when the top inch of soil is dry and resist the temptation to overwater which will encourage mold to grow.
Orchids: There are lots of reasons to love orchids, and this is one of them.
Peace Lilies: These plants need minimal sunlight and love water, and they actually absorb mold spores and keep them from growing. The center of the blooms can be removed to avoid pollen in the air
Golden, Marble Queen and Green Jade Pothos: Hardy, fast growing, with clean yellow and green leaves. This is one of the few hypoallergenic trailing plants.
Philodendron: Big beautiful smooth leaves.
Chinese Evergreen: Great for low light. Cut off any flowers before they open.
Ornamental indoor palms: Areca, Lady, and Bamboo Palms: Palms in general are good choices. The Areca Palm has the unique benefit of helping to humidify your air.
Dracaenas (or Corn Plants): These are easy care, low light with colorful, long leaves which can actually grab allergens out of the air with their leaves and absorb them. Some will grow six to ten feet tall into an impressive display. If you see a bloom, cut it off. (This is true for any plants if you want to avoid pollen).
Sansevieria: You can’t go wrong with these sturdy, vertical display plants, also known as “mother-in-law’s tongue.” Their tough striped leaves are indestructible and these will grow nearly anywhere.
Kitchen herbs: Most herbs have a nice fragrance that won’t overwhelm someone with asthma. Parsley and thyme are good choices. Make sure you have a strong light source, such as a kitchen window.
WORST HOUSEPLANTS FOR ALLERGIES
Certain indoor plants can make it more difficult to breathe because they are pollen, mold or dust factories. Some even have irritating sap or leaves. Here are the top offenders to avoid.
Ferns: Ferns – beautiful but challenging. They propagate with spores, a nightmare for anyone with breathing issues. They are nearly as bad as mold spores. Their lacy leaves also love dust.
Ivy: Another infamous dust magnet. If you really love ivy, just keep them cleaned and you should be all right.
African violets: Are you sensing a pattern here? The cute fuzzy leaves are nearly impossible to dust off. Better to leave them for someone else if you have allergies.
Fig (Ficus in all its forms): According to the North Carolina State University Extension, ficus sap contains furocoumarins, psoralens and ficin, proteins similar to latex which can cause a range of symptoms such as itchy eyes, coughing, skin irritation and wheezing, especially if you are already allergic to latex. The University of Florida points out that these proteins are a common cause of hay fever symptoms. The toxic or allergenic agents in the ficus get into your system in two ways: by contact from touching the sap or by inhaling toxins released into the air.
Yucca: Yuccas are another plant with irritating sap, and can also produce pollen when they bloom.
Juniper: You might run across bonsai made from a juniper. Juniper tree pollen floats like a feather, and even from a small bonsai it can wreck havoc on your sinuses.
Say no to all grasses, daises, mums, and most sunflowers.
Flowers in general are OK and won’t trigger allergies or asthma, unless the scent is something you simply don’t like.
Not sure which plants are the best choices for you? Think something in your office or home might be making your allergies worse? Get in touch with Good Earth Plant Company and our experts can review your current Plantscaping and make recommendations for introducing nature into your home or office without triggering any negative reaction.