Allergy-Free Gardening

— Written By Susan Condlin and last updated by

Allergy-free gardening…..could it be possible? Let’s begin with a lesson in flower structure to find out!

Flowers are one of the most desirable characteristics of many plants in our landscapes. However, the sole function of the flower is reproduction. Although we appreciate flowers for their beauty, their attractiveness and fragrance were designed to attract pollinators, which ensure the continuance of the plant species.

A flower that has stamens, pistils, petals, and sepals is called a complete flower. Incomplete flowers have one or more of these parts missing. Some plants like corn, squash, watermelons, and cucumbers produce flowers that lack one of the reproductive structures, either the stamens (male) or pistils (female). These are known as imperfect flowers. A flower is perfect if it contains both reproductive parts.

There are plants that bear only male flowers or only female flowers. These plants are called dioecious. As translated from Latin, dioceous actually means “two houses.” Most hollies are dioecious. Therefore, if we want our hollies to have obtain berries, it is necessary to plant female plants, because they will bear fruit. We also want to plants a male plant nearby for pollination.

There are also plants that bear male and female flowers on the same plant. We call these monecious, “one house.” Some common plants that have both sex flowers on the same plant are corn plants and pecan trees.

So what does this mean for those of us with allergies? Certain plants have been shown to be worse triggers for allergies than others. After some investigation, many of the worst offenders are dioecious! This means that the plants that only produce male flowers are the culprits, because female flowers do not produce pollen.

Many of our cities and townships utilize male plants in plantings, because they are easier to maintain. Naturally, male plants do not produce flower or fruit, so there is less messy cleanup.

So what can we do for our own gardens to prevent the sniffles in the spring? Find out whether or not the plants you plan to plant are dioecious and if they are, plan to use female plants in your landscape! It is still important to have a male plant nearby if you wish for your plants to fruit.

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