Updated: Aug 23, 2021
Workspaces that incorporate biophilic elements, such as living walls, don’t just look stunning. They also offer numerous benefits to those who work there, including better air quality, reduced levels of sickness, increased productivity, and more. Despite this, however, a living walls could leave one specific group of employees feeling anxious. We’re talking about allergy sufferers; specifically, those with plant-related allergies.
Thankfully, this guide will explain how you can consider common allergens when incorporating living walls into your workplace. Plus, we’ll give you the rundown on what plants you should include, and avoid, to keep employee allergies at bay.
What is a Plant Allergy?
When a person has a plant allergy, also referred to as hay fever or allergic rhinitis, they are susceptible to an allergic reaction when they inhale or come into contact with certain plant allergens. Some of the common symptoms a plant allergy may cause include:
Red, itchy, and/or watery eyes
Puffiness underneath the eyes
Although not technically a plant allergy, a person may also suffer from an allergy to the mold living within a plant’s soil. These allergens can also cause many of the same symptoms listed above.
What Employers Can Do to Combat Plant Allergies
Before you incorporate living walls into your workspace, you’ll first want to find out if any employees have a plant allergy. This will allow you to avoid any of their specific triggers, thus creating a more natural and beautiful environment that everyone can enjoy.
To do this, ask your employees to complete a questionnaire about any potential allergies they may have in relation to plants. Be sure to gauge what reactions these plants can cause them too, as plant allergy side effects can range from mild (such as a slight sniffle) to severe (such as swelling or hives). While you don’t want your office greenery to cause employees any discomfort, it is vital to be aware of these more serious side effects, as they would particularly be cause for alarm.
Plants to Avoid
As an employer looking to incorporate more plants into your office, you can also take important precautions by avoiding certain plants altogether. This list of plants are known to affect people susceptible to plant allergies:
Bonsai (especially juniper and cedar varieties)
There are also some readily available plants that are known to be very toxic to humans and animals. These can present a severe hazard in a workspace, particularly if it is one frequented by small children or pets, and therefore should be avoided:
Belladonna (or Deadly Nightshade)
Plants Safe for Allergy Sufferers
Thankfully, not all plants are harmful to those with a plant allergy. There are numerous hypoallergenic plants available, meaning they produce less pollen and can even help to clear the air of other harmful or triggering allergens, making them perfect for incorporating into your office’s biophilic design.
The following plants are recommended by NASA after conducting a Clean Air Study to determine which plants are most beneficial in indoor environments:
Chrysanthemums and Peace Lilies
Both species not only produce a stunning flower but are also recommended for their ability to remove harmful toxins from the air, including PCE (also known as tetrachloroethylene). PCE can have a wide range of effects on individuals, including irritation of the skin, eyes, and upper respiratory tract. Therefore, it's not a toxin you want floating around within your space.
Golden Pothos and Philodendron
Both of these plants are celebrated for their low maintenance, bright green leaves, intriguing varieties, and vine-like growth. However, NASA has hailed these species for their ability to control formaldehyde levels in their surrounding environment. Exposure to formaldehyde can cause side effects such as irritation of the skin, eyes, nose, and throat.
Daisies often get a bad rap for their high allergy-causing properties, but gerbera daisies are an exception. NASA found that the species has the ability to control benzene levels in the air. Benzene is a chemical commonly found in plastics, resins, synthetic fibers, rubber lubricants, dyes, detergents, and pesticides. For many, exposure can cause everything from drowsiness, dizziness, and headaches to eye, skin, and respiratory tract irritation.
The areca palm is another highly recommended plant to embrace in your biophilic design, particularly because of its ability to humidify the air. Those with allergies suffer from dryness and inflammation of the delicate tissues in their nose and throat. Having the right level of humidity in an environment can provide much-needed moisture to these areas, therefore reducing common allergy symptoms.
Lady Palm and Bamboo Palm
NASA’s study also highlighted that two varieties of palm, the lady palm and bamboo palm, act as fantastic natural air purifiers in indoor environments. This means they constantly remove toxins, allergens, and other harmful impurities, allowing us to breathe cleaner indoor air.
With its strap-like leaves in varying shades of green, the dracaena is a popular plant among many office spaces. However, research suggests it’s also a must-have houseplant for allergy sufferers, thanks to its brilliant ability to pull allergens from the air and store them within its leaves. This not only eliminates the allergens from the surrounding space but also helps individuals to breathe cleaner, less-triggering air.
Maintaining a Low-Allergen Biophilic Work Space
Once your living walls have been incorporated, there are also some additional actions you can take to ensure your office space doesn’t trigger an employee’s allergies later on. We recommend utilizing the services of a plant specialist who can conduct regular inspections of your greenery and carry out proper maintenance, including watering, pruning, checking soil, cleaning dust on leaves, replacing sick or dead plants, and (if required) applying insecticide. This will prevent your plants from turning into allergy risks, particularly by minimizing the risk of mold, insects, and excess moisture or dust.
At Zauben, we provide ongoing care to keep clients’ plant walls looking lush and beautiful. We monitor your living wall system in real-time to make sure your plants are healthy and performing at their best. Plus, our twice-monthly maintenance service means you and your employees can sit back and continue enjoying your air-purifying, hypoallergenic greenery for years to come.