There’s nothing worse than allergies standing between you and your favorite indoor plants. Itchy eyes, runny noses, or other allergy symptoms take the shine off a day spent tending the indoor jungle.
I have a few allergies that get in the way of my gardening, so I curated a list of the worst indoor plants for allergies and a couple of substitutions so you never have to miss out on having a green indoor space.
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What Causes Indoor Plant Allergies?
An allergy is effectively your own body’s immune system overreacting to an element in the environment.
Rather than identifying it as harmless, your internal defense systems launch an attack, causing symptoms like a sore throat, runny nose, or watery eyes.
An allergic reaction might make your skin itchy, red, or swollen and, in extreme cases, send the whole immune system into overdrive, swelling the airways and causing anaphylaxis.
Allergies might feel trivial, but it pays to bear them in mind when decorating your home or office. It’s hard to live in a space full of things that make it hard for you to breathe, after all!
Common indoor allergies include pet dander and mold allergies. But when it comes to plants, there are three to bear in mind – allergy to dust, pollen, and latex.
I suffer from all three, so I have discovered firsthand how badly some of the worst houseplants on this list really perform.
The best way to treat a disease is to prevent it, after all, so here are some tips on managing your allergy and maintaining your indoor collection without any discomfort.
Remember that there’s a distinction between toxic and allergenic plants. If a plant is toxic, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it will trigger allergic reactions too. For example, alocasia plants are considered toxic, but they are not the ones that will cause allergic reactions in you.
Dust is a mix of shed skin, dirt, and other environmental pollution that fall as a light gritty substance over just about everything.
People with asthma and other respiratory conditions also find dust irritating and hazardous to their health.
Others, like myself, have allergies to dust mites that thrive in dusty environments.
Typical symptoms include respiratory tract irritation (runny nose, wheezing) and itchy eyes. Some experience welts too from direct contact.
Some plants just hold onto dust in ways that make it hard to keep them clean. Others produce dust themselves. Either way, they need to be avoided by allergy sufferers.
All flowering plants produce pollen – it’s the whole point of flowers! Seasonal allergies like hayfever are frequently a response to the joyous flowering of pollen-bearing plants each year.
It’s a common allergen across the United States, with an especially high pollen count often making the news.
Not all pollen is created the same; some plants are more irritating than others. But for allergy sufferers, pollen is more like mace.
It’s an immediate hit to the face, causing breathing difficulty and watery eyes.
A latex allergy can be tricky to spot. Most people find out they’re allergic to latex through contact with medical gloves, adhesives for stick-on wound dressings, or exposure to rubber balloons.
It can take a while to work out it’s the latex itself that’s the cause of the allergy.
Latex allergies are usually mild and mostly cause skin irritation. Itchiness is common, and severe cases cause welts or hives.
Latex itself is a naturally occurring substance found in the leaves and sap of many plants. Some species have latex in all parts of the plant, and in others, it’s limited to leaves or sap.
15 Worst Indoor Plants for Allergies
1. African Violet: Dust
Fuzzy wuzzy African Violet (Saintpaulia ionantha) doesn’t produce much dust on its own. It’s simply very hard to keep the African violets’ leaves free of dust.
They can’t be washed clear of dust like other plant life can – their velvety leaves are prone to disease if they are repeatedly wet.
All in all, these are some of the worst indoor plants for dust allergies.
2. Ferns: Dust
No plant in my collection gathers dust quite like ferns. They also produce a fair bit of dust of their own, too.
Ferns reproduce via spores, a fine powdery substance found in deposits under the leaves.
Some varieties also develop delicate hair-like structures over their stems and emerging leaves that break off as fine dust if the fern fronds become too dry.
Some ferns are better than others – Boston fern and Elkhorn fern are less prone to dust – but in general, allergy sufferers should steer clear.
3. English Ivy: Dust
English Ivy (Hedera helix) is often touted as an air cleaning plant.
While it’s true that studies have shown how effective English Ivy is at removing hazardous gases from the air, it comes at a cost.
English Ivy catches and holds dust. Its textured foliage holds dust particles and releases them when the plant is jostled or shaken.
It’s also hard to wash them, with the fuzz holding water so well they often become moldy. Dust and mold spores together make this one of the worst indoor plants for allergy sufferers.
4. Chamomile: Pollen
Soothing on the stomach but irritating on the eye, Chamomile flowers produce vast quantities of irritating pollen.
Both common varieties – German chamomile (Matricaria recutita) and Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile) are members of the aster family, known for their prodigious ability to produce pollen.
5. Daisy: Pollen
A rustic pot spilling forth with daisy (Bellis perennis) has country charm in abundance, but it also has a hell of a lot of pollen.
Like chamomile, they’re an aster and will release choking quantities of pollen during their flowering season.
Coupled with how prodigiously they flower, it’s a recipe for asthma symptoms, runny noses, and itchy eyes.
6. Gerbera: Pollen
The bright and cheerful group of Gerbera daisies are just as bad as their smaller cousins regarding pollen.
They’re often sold in perky pots as a table display or window-sill treat, but these perennials produce large quantities of pollen over their short lives.
7. Chrysanthemums: Pollen
A Mother’s Day favorite, a healthy chrysanthemum will produce dozens of pollen-rich flowers almost destined to cause problems.
I keep mine strictly outdoors, but even then, they produce enough pollen to stain nearby garden trim.
These are some of the worst indoor plants for pollen allergies and are best skipped by sensitive noses and asthma sufferers alike.
8. Male Palms: Pollen
Generally, people consider plants to be sexless, but some species broadly divide into male and female plants.
These are known scientifically as ‘dioecious’ plants, and quite a few palms are either male or female. The female palm produces seeds, but only after the male palm produces its pollen.
Palm pollen is spectacularly irritating. It’s released en mass in quantities large enough to see with the naked eye. Dioecious palms include date palms, lady palms, and sago palms.
9. Lilies: Pollen
While gorgeous, true lilies like Amaryllis, Tiger Lily, Easter Lily, and Stargazers are poor choices for indoor plants.
Not only are they demanding half the year and dormant the rest, but their flowers also produce abundant pollen.
That pollen gets around and can turn your living space into a death trap, even long after the flower itself is gone. Peace Lilies aren’t off the hook, either.
While not a true lily, it’s still a flowering plant and can trigger a pollen allergy if enough of the long-lasting flowers are on display.
10. Bonsai Trees: Pollen
Surprisingly these little trees can cause big reactions from those with pollen allergies. Cypress, juniper, and oak trees are like palms- either male or female.
Male trees, no matter how small, still produce pollen, and tree pollen is one of the more serious allergy triggers.
This makes these tiny works of art one of the worst plants for folks who struggle with hay fever symptoms through the summer months.
11. Rubber Plant: Latex
The rubber plant (Ficus elastica) is the tree from which commercial latex is harvested. It’s hardly surprising they’re a problem for those of us with a latex allergy.
Also known as rubber trees, it doesn’t take much for one of those gorgeous smooth leaves to start oozing sap.
They are some of the worst indoor plants for latex allergies.
12. Weeping Fig: Latex
Weeping figs (Ficus benjamina) is an elegant, easy-care plant that grows into a stately tree. But those glossy leaves are chock full of latex, and even a small amount of damage results in dripping sap.
German researchers have discovered that even the presence of a Weeping Fig can cause sensitivity that leads to full-blown allergy, with people reporting allergic rhinitis, rhinoconjunctivitis, and allergic asthma from very limited contact.
13. Fiddle Leaf Fig: Latex
Much as I love Fiddle Leaf Figs (Ficus lyrata), they’re a hard pass at my house.
Not only do they contain latex all through their leaves and branches, but they also drop foliage when stressed.
It’s easy for even a diligent housekeeper to find small bits and pieces of shed leaf or bark in unexpected places.
14. African Milk Tree: Latex
If you love spiky architectural plants, the African Milk Tree (Euphorbia trigona) might be an appealing choice.
It’s more like a succulent than a true tree, with long flat stems and an abundance of small oval leaves.
But the name doesn’t lie – when injured, this succulent oozes milky, latex-rich sap.
15. Aloes: Latex
Aloes of all types are known for their restorative properties, but it’s a little-known fact that their sap causes contact dermatitis in folks with latex allergies.
Smaller aloes are generally safe to keep indoors, but big cultivars like Aloe Barbensia pose a substantial risk to allergy sufferers.
Their spikes cause injury that is deeply irritated by the presence of latex, so it’s a good idea to keep them outdoors.
If you’re looking to keep succulents indoors that won’t cause allergies, consider a euphorbia variety from this list.
How to Choose Low-Allergy Plants
Like many allergy sufferers, I need my indoor air quality at its very best, or I literally stop breathing. It’s driven me to find the best choices when picking both my outdoor plants and house plants.
The right plants make the difference between a relaxing indoor environment and one that has me breaking out in hives.
Here’s the trick to getting the best plants for a hypoallergenic plant collection.
Use the NASA Clean Air Study
The NASA Clean Air Study is often considered the last word for low-allergy plants.
Conducted in 1989 and more formally known as the Interior Landscape Plants for Indoor Air Pollution Abatement study, it examined the ability of a number of indoor plants to remove hazardous compounds from the air.
The study hasn’t been without its critics.
The study only tracked how well the plants pulled volatile organic compounds like formaldehyde from the air. It didn’t track dust, pollen, or pathogens like mold spores in the soil.
But it remains a good tool for spotting a plant that will work as an air filter as well as prevent nasal allergies from ruining your day.
5 Best Indoor Plants for People with Allergies
The following plants are perfect indoor plants for allergy sufferers and make great alternatives to our list of worst indoor plants for allergies above.
They all performed well on the NASA study, with a proven ability to improve the air quality of your home by drawing harmful toxins from the air.
They don’t produce airborne allergens and are safe for folks with sensitive skin.
1. Golden Pothos
Golden Pothos (Epipremnum aureum), sometimes called Devil’s Ivy, is a lush trailing vine. They don’t flower indoors at all and are great low-light plants.
They can grow as thick as any fern but are far easier to clean – just pop them under a shower head, and they’ll soon shed every last skerrick of dust.
They love high humidity and will thrive when showered regularly. They’re easy to grow, too, making them one of the best indoor plants all around.
2. Spider Plant
Spider plants (Chlorophytum comosum) are densely growing grassy plants that can produce small ‘babies’ on the ends of long flowering heads.
Their flowers are so small with such a tiny amount of pollen it’s possible for even a dedicated gardener to miss them.
Like Golden Pothos love a good rinse-off every now and then.
If you can’t get through life without a few beautiful flowers, a begonia is a great choice. They’re experiencing a bit of a Renaissance right now and for good reason.
Begonias have striking leaves and gorgeous flowers, with the Polka Dot Begonia (Begonia maculata) being especially popular.
They’ll flower reliably with enough light and have captivating patterned leaves when out of bloom.
They’re a striking ornamental plant throughout the year and a better choice for flower lovers.
4. Bamboo Palm
Also known as the Areca Palm or Golden Palm, the Bamboo Palm (Dypsis lutescens) is a low-allergen palm with stellar air-purifying qualities.
As an indoor plant, you won’t see flowers, let alone see them release pollen, and they actively eliminate airborne pollutants.
5. Corn Plant
Also known as Dracaena Jenny Craig, the Corn Plant (Dracaena fragrans) is a great air purifier.
They feature wide, glossy leaves that are easy to wipe clean with a damp cloth, and they seldom flower indoors.
They’re one of the best ornamental plants for warm, dry areas, making them one of the best office plants and a great alternative to some of the worst indoor plants for allergies above.
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