Valentine's Day is the busiest day of the year for florists. (I may or may not have got that information from Valentine's Day starring Ashton Kutcher as a florist.) But some of you – nine million in Canada according to Reactine – may be missing out because the pollen in a bouquet of flowers could set your nose twitching and eyes itching, or send you straight into a sneeze-fest.
Yvonne Ogren is severely allergic to flower and plant pollen. But she has the best hubby ever. He's a horticulturist. His wife's allergies and asthma sparked his 25-year focus on allergy-friendly garden and landscape solutions.
what a horticulturist gets for his flower-allergic love
"I might get her red or pink rosebuds, and if I can find some pollen-free lilies -- they're really pretty," says Thomas Leo Ogren, M.Sc., via telephone when I ask what he's planning to get his wife for Valentine's Day. "They're Asiatic lilies or tiger lilies that look pretty much like other lilies, but they don't have anthers [stamen tips] on them – no pollen. They've been developed in the last year or so, and quite a few florists are starting to carry them." (A good florist can turn a lily into a pollen-free bloom, too, simply by removing the anthers for you. Ogren says that also helps the flowers last longer.)
Also on Ogren's list of potential Valentine blooms are crysanthemums. "They used to be a sort of old thing, but now there are thousands and thousands of them, new varieties. There are tight little green ones, really small and pretty – I like those, and they last a long time in a bouquet. They're hybridized to give them more and more petals. [In some hybrids], petals take the place of the stamens, so now we have hundreds of crysanthemums loaded with petals, but with no pollen in the centre."
A sweet idea: a pot of minature roses, still in bud stage. Or red or pink cyclamens (above). "They last a long time, they're real pretty, and they like the cooler weather," says Ogren. "It's not hard to find a good selection this time of year. And they're very low allergy."
Potted orchids are another excellent choice. Ogren says they make only tiny amounts of pollen, and he's never had reports of related allergies. "My wife loves orchids, so I'll be getting her one," he says. Once the flowers fall off, trim the stalk, put the pot in a window, water it once in a while, and watch it bloom again in a few months.
Beautiful orchid plants can be had from places like Costco, but be careful if you're buying cut flowers from a grocery store. Ogren says bouquets there are often sprayed with fragrance, which can trigger allergy symptoms. And avoid clusters of little tiny flowers, in particular anything that looks like goldenrod. "Those are often the ones that put the most pollen out," he says. "And typical open daisies and gerberers – I'd shy away from those. You bring them into the warm, dry house and they'll start to shed pollen."
Ogren isn't finished his Valentine's Day plans for Yvonne. He thinks maybe a bouquet as well as an orchid plant, and a night out. He's also the type of partner who doesn't wait for an occasion to give his wife flowers. "I bring Yvonne flowers all the time. I've been married to her for a long time. We got married when we were teenagers, and we've been married almost 45 years. She's a very tolerant wife."
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allergy-friendly flower choices
Roses – florist-type hybrid tea roses in a closed-bud stage and not especially fragrant (fragrance – sometimes artificially enhanced by florists, especially those in grocery stores, says Ogren -- can trigger allergies)
Lilies – pollen-free varieties, or you can have your florist carefully remove the brown pollen-bearing anthers on the tip of each of the six stamens in each regular lily
Orchids – orchids have very little pollen and rarely spark allergy symptoms
Chrysanthemums – look for fully formal double flowers -- no visible centre, no stamens
Begonias – specifically Rieger begonias, which are, like hybrid mums, fully formal double flowers
Carnations – same as with mums, look for lots of petals, no visible centre and no stamens
Dahlias – lots of petals, no visible centre
Iris – lots of petals, no visible centre
Asters – yep, lots of petals, no visible centre
avoid these allergy triggers
Daisies, including Gerberas
Queen Ann's Lace
Do you or your honey have flower or plant allergies?
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Thomas Leo Ogren, M.Sc., is the author of several books, including Allergy-Free Gardening and the provocatively titled Safe Sex in the Garden, which tackles botanical sexism, plant selection based on whether it's male or female. (Most urban landscaping involves a large percentage of male trees and shrubs because they don't drop fruit, seeds, or flowers like female types do. #tidy. But male trees and plants are the ones with all the pollen. So yep, among other things, your seasonal allergies can be blamed on males. #statusquo.) Thanks to the folks who make Reactine, Ogren conducted a Canada-wide audit of regional pollen bombs so allergy sufferers can be more aware of local triggers and manage symptoms better (read about Reactine's handy iPhone app here). Results were released in May 2012.