Q: I’ve been told that people who have severe allergies should plant only female trees and shrubs because they produce the fruit but not the pollen which is produced by the male plants. If this is true, how do I tell a male from a female plant when selecting shrubs or trees?
A: I don’t have much confidence that planting male plants will help reduce your allergies. We have too many plants in our landscapes that have allergenic pollen to make much difference if a few are chosen to have less pollen than others. That said, it is true that pollen settles relatively close to its parent so there will be a slight positive effect if you choose plants cautiously.
Although some plants are indeed dioecious, having male and female flowers on separate plants, many others are perfect-flowered, with all flowers having both male and female parts. You can find more information in “Allergy-Free Gardening” (Tom Ogren, Ten Speed Press)
Wearing a good quality pollen mask outdoors and installing a high-efficiency filter on your air handler system indoors is your best bet to reduce pollen allergies. An allergist/dermatologist can determine exactly which pollen causes you an allergic reaction and you can eliminate those plants from your landscape.
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