10 Worst Indoor Houseplants for People With Allergies

A person sitting on a couch reaches for tissues on a coffee table

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

Houseplants can do a lot of good. They're proven stress relievers and mood boosters that can brighten a room and offer homeowners a fun, new hobby. But for people who suffer from allergies or asthma, indoor plants can also be a nuisance. There are many plant allergens, and while outdoor plants are much more likely to set off allergic rhinitis or hay fever, our indoor friends can be guilty as well. In many cases, the biggest culprits are flowering species or heavy pollinators. Knowing which varieties to avoid is key to enjoying your indoor jungle sneeze-free.

Here are 10 houseplants to avoid if you suffer from allergies.

Warning

Some of the plants on this list are toxic to pets. For more information about the safety of specific plants, consult the ASPCA's searchable database.

1
of 10

Fern (Polypodiopsida)

A boston fern in a hanging planter

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Ferns are among the most common houseplants, but also a common cause of allergic reactions. That's largely due to the airborne spores they release, which can be a serious cause for concern among people who suffer from seasonal allergies. Consider moving ferns outdoors, where they can still thrive in hanging planters or pots, and their potent spores can disperse more readily. 

2
of 10

African Violet (Streptocarpus sect. Saintpaulia)

overhead shot of hands touching african violet plant fuzzy leaves

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African violets are a group of 10 species of pretty flowering plants. They have distinctive, fuzzy leaves that provide a unique appearance — but also function as a powerful dust magnet. People who suffer from dust allergies might find it helps to wipe down the leaves regularly, but it may be easier to choose a different plant to welcome to your home in the first place.

3
of 10

Palm (Arecaceae)

palm houseplant in woven basket in neutral living room

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Palms are easy-to-maintain houseplants with a tropical look that can cause allergic reactions if you're not careful. Luckily, steering clear of the sniffles is easy with a little knowledge. Just be sure to select a female plant, since it's only the males that spew pollen and cause problems. In fact, a female palm is an especially good choice, since its smooth, slender leaves don't attract much dust and it grows well in sandy, mold-free soil.

4
of 10

Fig (Ficus)

overhead shot of ficus rubber tree on bed tray with coffee

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Figs trees are among of the most common indoor plants, but also likely culprits when it comes to allergies. Sap on the thick leaves mixes with dust particles, creating a potent allergen that has been found to cause reactions more frequently than any other houseplant. Figs can be especially problematic for those with a latex allergy because ficus and latex proteins are similar in structure. Figs are popular choices for decorating offices and other commercial spaces. All of the most common varieties, such as weeping figs and rubber plants, can cause allergic reactions.

5
of 10

Yucca

Yucca plant in a sunny window next to a gold watering can.

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Yucca is a favorite houseplant that's easy to grow, with an interesting structure and a unique, textured trunk. Unfortunately, having it in the home doesn't sit right for some people with pollen allergies. The same study that implicated weeping fig as an allergen producer also found that yucca species were a common source of airborne allergens that led to allergic rhinitis.

6
of 10

Ivy (Hedera)

A pot-bound ivy on a chair being watered from a can

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Poison ivy might get all the attention, but it's not the only ivy that can leave a rash. In fact, poison ivy isn't a true ivy at all (it's related to cashews and pistachios), but the 15 climbing species that are members of the Hedera genus can cause respiratory and skin problems as well. If you suffer from allergies but still covet ivy's distinctive ability to climb, consider outdoor alternatives that can accentuate trees and trellises.

7
of 10

Chrysanthemum

Pink chrysanthemum in an open window

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Chrysanthemums are a hardy, showy flowering plant that blooms in a multitude of colors. Since it grows well in containers, it's often brought indoors, but this can sometimes spell trouble. It's wind pollinated, which means it produces an abundance of light, dusty pollen that's easily picked up in the air. This is bad news for people prone to allergies, and studies of greenhouse employees have shown that this flower is a common culprit when it comes to allergy symptoms.

8
of 10

Orchid (Orchidaceae)

purple pink orchid sits near open window with cityscape outside

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While they may look aloof and demure, for some people, orchids can cause skin reactions when directly touched; in the worst cases, they may lead to facial swelling, or even anaphylactic shock. However, if you're not among the unfortunate ones afflicted by this skin irritation, orchids are unlikely to cause other allergic reactions, since their sticky pollen doesn't often become airborne.

9
of 10

Bonsai Trees

person in sweater carefully trims bonsai tree on table

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Despite their small stature, bonsai trees can be the cause of allergies for anyone who is allergic to tree pollen. Plus, because bonsai trees are usually housed indoors, they can produce pollen at different times of the year than outdoor trees. The regular, careful pruning that bonsai trees require can exacerbate symptoms, due to increased exposure and skin contact.

Juniper is one of the most common bonsai species, and one of the most likely to cause allergic reactions. Exposure to juniper pollen can sometimes incite severe symptoms that resemble the flu. 

10
of 10

Anything Overwatered

person in gray sweater faces camera cradling metal watering can

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One of the worst things you can do to any of your houseplants is to give them too much water. It can lead to fungus and mold in the soil, which is bad for the plant, and for anyone with asthma or mold allergies. Most plants prefer well-draining soil, so if you adopt a proper watering regimen, you should be able to avoid mold, fungus, and the health issues associated with them.

View Article Sources
  1. Allergic Rhinitis.” American College of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology.

  2. African Violets.” University of Minnesota Extension.

  3. Zaid, Abdelouahhab, and De Wet, P.F. “Pollination and Bunch Management.” in A. Zaid and E.J. Arias-Jiménez (Editors), Date Palm Cultivation. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. 2002.

  4. Mahillon, Virginie, et al. “High Incidence of Sensitization to Ornamental Plants in Allergic Rhinitis.” Allergy, vol. 61, 2006, pp., 1138-1140., doi:10.1111/j.1398-9995.2006.01026.x

  5. Teoh, Eng Soon. Orchids as Aphrodisiac, Medicine Or Food. Springer International. 2019.

  6. Mold Allergy.” Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.