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Case of Mistaken Identity Nothing to Sneeze
Please, please don't ever recommend the planting of
goldenrod! I was amazed when I saw it pictured in your column this
May and named as an interesting plant to plant. I always thought it
was a wild weed. Most hay fever sufferers have grown to hate it
because it is one of the worst and most common causes of hay fever
If you can imagine sneezing hundreds of times a day,
having your nose and eyes run constantly, using up tons of Kleenex,
and actually starting to shake from weakness due to so much
sneezing, then you'll have some idea of the absolute misery of a
hay fever sufferer. Please print a warning about this to try to
head off a lot of people planting goldenrod. D.R.
Such timing! Janet's in her third week of near-voicelessness, a
side effect of allergies, so we know the misery that plant pollen
can cause. Still, we stand by goldenrod -- literally -- without
discomfort. So do specialists in plants and medicine, who know that
plants such as goldenrod (Solidago species) with heavy,
insect-carried pollen rarely cause allergic reaction. We're allergy
sufferers who plant it without fear in many beautiful forms, and will
continue to do so.
It's interesting to consider how an innocent plant got such a
bad reputation. The myth is often explained this way -- goldenrod
was named a troublemaker for keeping bad company. Goldenrod's showy
yellow plumes open in concert with the inconspicuous greenish
flowers of another meadow native, ragweed. Ragweed and its fellow
artemisias, the true culprits, escape blame because no one notices
them. Supposedly, people feel their allergy symptoms escalating,
look out the window, and blame the first flower they see.
We don't think that way. Maybe "back when" people made that
connection. Now, most people don't live near meadows and wouldn't
know goldenrod from blackeye Susan. But most Americans have seen
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, usually as impressionable
children. We blame Walt Disney for goldenod's bad name in modern
We blame Walt Disney for
goldenrod's bad name.
Think about it. Dopey presents Snow White with a bouquet.
Sneezy, standing nearby, looks at the flowers, utters a single,
damning word -- "Goldenrod!" -- and begins to sneeze so violently
that objects are propelled across the room. Recognize goldenrod,
the plant? No way. Recall that dwarf's comical reaction in
conjunction with a flower name? Certainly.
You and Janet, and the 20 percent of the U.S. population that
has plant-related allergies need to know the truth. Plants to avoid
are wind-pollinated. Grass, walnut trees, and junipers are just
three whose blooms are not notable but should be, for the misery
they cause. In Arizona, pollen counts jumped tenfold from 1965 to
1985. That's when that State's population boomed, in part because
asthma and allergy sufferers were moving there for relief, and
the newcomers planted lawns so they would feel at home!
Look for information about plants and allergies at the Asthma and Allergy
Foundation http://www.aafa.org/index.cfm (1-800-7-ASTHMA).
There is a lot of information about troubling plants in what was
once a booklet available through AAFA and is now a book, "Allergy:
Plants that Cause Sneezing and Wheezing" is now a book by Mary
Jelks, available from book stores.
Or watch a garden for a season and take notes -- flowers visited
by bees, butterflies, and other insects are safe bets for allergy
sufferers. Flowers that produce puffs of yellow pollen when lightly
tapped are to be avoided. Try sniffing, too -- heavily fragrant
flowers are trouble for some people, not from any reaction caused
by their pollen but from their scent.
Does the plant release yellow dust
when you tap it?
That's a wind-pollinated plant,
a baaaaad plant for allergy sufferers.
We should be choosing flowers
with sticky, heavy, insect-carried pollen.
Below: See bees on the goldenrod? Then the plant's relying
on insects to carry its pollen -- so that pollen is not airborne,
not going up your nose!
Often, allergy-safe plants are the showiest flowers in the
garden, since visual attractiveness is a natural beacon to help
insects home in on their targets. You'll be glad to realize that
peony, magnolia, hibiscus, poppy, iris, hosta, daylily, delphinium,
goldenrod, and salvia are okay to grow. On the other hand, it's an
eye-opener -- or nose-closer -- to see the lightest, late April tap
bring clouds of wind-driven pollen from that all-American favorite
shrub, the yew.
Originally published 6/6/98