Don't say 'A-choo' | February 8, 2006 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

- February 8, 2006

Don't say 'A-choo'

Flowers can bring joy - or irritation - to the allergic bride

by Rachel Hill

Imagine being dressed in a long, white wedding gown, hair styled around a diamond encrusted tiara, and donning expensive jewels. All eyes affixed on the bride, she approaches the altar, clutching an elegant bouquet of flowers. But something is about to overcome her anticipation and joy of this momentous occasion. Her nose is runny, her eyes become red and itchy, and she is caught in a fit of sneezing.

An allergy attack triggered by a wedding bouquet may be the furthest thing from the thoughts of most brides-to-be, but bridal bouquets laden with pollen can, for the allergic, put a damper on a wedding occasion.

Allergy-free bouquets are a logical item, considering 26 million people in the U.S. suffer from pollen allergies, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. But, the concept remains fairly unknown among consumers, according to Michaela Dieffenbach, manager of Michaela's Flower Shop in Palo Alto. She receives very few requests for allergy-free flowers, because, she said, most of her customers are unaware such flowers exist.

Different flower species produce varying amounts of pollen, according to Thomas Leo Ogren, author of "Allergy-free Gardening," a book florists recommend on the subject. Ogren has created a trademarked plant allergy scale, which rates plants on a scale from 1 to 10. Roses and orchids contain minute amounts of pollen, but beware of lilies and goldenrod flowers --- they are filled with the allergy-causing agent, he notes.

Lilies are high producers of pollen, with the Stargazer lily being the worst, Karen Chiu, flower designer at Mills the Florist in Palo Alto said. Chiu would choose roses, tulips and hydrangeas, which contain very little pollen, for wedding bouquets.

One of Caroline Chan's customers received numerous lilies from her boyfriend as a statement of his love --- and nearly suffocated, the owner of Mountain View Grant Florist said. The stronger the smell of a flower is, the more pollen it embodies, she added.

In addition to roses, Chan adds carnations and irises to her list of low pollen-producing flowers.

But if a bride has a particular favorite flower they can't live without, then removing the anthers can eliminate pollen. The notoriously pollen-shedding lilies can be made pollen-free by carefully removing "the brown pollen-bearing anthers ...," according to Ogren.

Lilies are not common in wedding bouquets, but when a customer requests them, the stamen, a support organ for the pollen-producing anther, is removed from the middle of the flower to make them tolerable for use, Dieffenbach said.

Flowers that possess no allergic threat outside can worsen when brought indoors. Dry air causes these same flowers to shed allergenic pollen and trigger allergies, according to Ogren.

This also applies to table bouquets at the reception --- those lovely table adornments can also cause an attack of the sneezes for wedding guests. With more than half the number of all allergies in the U.S. stemming from pollen, according to the Centers for Disease Control, the chances that someone at a wedding will be suffering is high.


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