Certain flowers seem more appropriate for particular occasions. Weddings ought to be bright, fun, and cheerful, and they require festive flowers. I like "glads," gladiolas, but I see them used at funerals all too often, so they seem out of place at fun affairs like weddings. Likewise, although fir trees and poinsettias feel right for Christmas time, they would probably seem out of place at Easter.
But no matter what the season, the one thing we don't want with flowers inside the church is pollen! With floral displays very little pollen is good, and no pollen at all is by far the best.
There are a good many flowers that when growing outside in the garden pose little if any risk for triggering allergies or asthma. However, many of these same flowers when brought inside into a warm, dry environment, such as that in a church, will then shed allergenic pollen that can become airborne. Because of this we need to take special care with all flowers we bring inside.
Daises: For starters avoid using most of the daisy-related type flowers, daisies, gerbera, chrysanthemums, asters, dahlias, and sunflowers unless you know they're pollen-free ones. There actually are quite a few chrysanthemums, dahlias and asters that are called formal doubles and that have no pollen. All of these formal doubled flowers will be ones with a very high number of petals per flower. What has happened with these flowers is that they have been hybridized so often that the pollen parts (the stamens) have turned into parts that now look more like petals (staminoids). All true formal double flowers will be pollen free. If you look at the center of a formal double daisy or mum, all you'll see are more petals. But, if you look into the center of a daisy-type flower and can see the yellow stamens, that is not a formal double. There are also a considerable number of pollen-free sunflowers sold, and these can be excellent choices for the right occasion.
Goldenrod flowers (bright yellow) are often used as filler material in arrangements but goldenrod is a daisy-ragweed relative and will shed plenty of allergenic pollen. Don't use goldenrod!
White Baby's breath is a popular cut flower, again, often used as filler between other larger flowers. Baby's breath is grown and sold as single or double flowered. If you use baby's breath, use only the doubled flowered types.
Roses: Florist type hybrid tea roses that are still in a closed bud stage and that are not especially fragrant are excellent choices and will shed no pollen. If using roses picked from the garden, choose only those roses with healthy green leaves, and pick roses that are still in the bud to half-open stages. Some free-flowering garden roses, such as the beautiful pale pink 'Cecile Brunner' roses, are always allergy-free and produce no pollen at all. The Banksia roses, which will be either yellow or white, are small, cute, come in dense sprays, and are also pollen-free. If cutting your own roses from the garden, immediately plunge the stems in water as soon as they've been cut, and take the time too, to remove any thorns with your clippers.
Pots of blooming hydrangeas, especially of the old-fashioned "pom-pom" Hydrangea macrophylla type, are mostly pollen-free and are good choices for using in a church. Pots of blooming double tuberous begonias, especially all the erect type cultivars, almost all of these are great, with very large, pollen-free, colorful flowers. The fancy flowered begonias called 'Reigers' begonias are also pollen-free and come in bright colors of white, yellow, red, salmon, and pink.
Lilies of all types can often now be purchased that already have all their pollen removed, making them pollen-free flowers. But if the lilies you buy still have their pollen (each lily flower has six male stamens, and the abundant pollen will be on the anther, the tip of each stamen) then someone (who doesn't have allergies), can carefully remove the brown pollen-bearing anthers from the tip of each of the six stamens in each lily.... watch this pollen as it will also easily stain your wedding clothes, especially anything white. Lilies that have had the anthers removed will be completely pollen-free, and they will last longer, too, as cut flowers. ** A caution here: sap from any and all kinds of lilies, especially Alstromeria (sometimes called Peruvian Lilies), can cause a very nasty, long-lasting itchy skin rash. With this in mind, watch out for the sap of all lilies. Also, it would not be a good idea for a bride to even carry a bouquet of lilies if she has skin that is in the least bit sensitive. Anyone helping with the cut flowers would be wise not to stick their hands into the water in which the lilies have been standing, as this water will have the allergenic sap in it. *Note: some lilies have strong fragrances and before any are used, the fragrance should be checked. Avoid the ones with the strongest fragrance.
Tulips and Daffodils will normally shed very little pollen, but the smallest flowered types of daffodils, often sold as Narcissus, many of these have a powerful, sometimes almost obnoxious fragrance, and these are to be avoided. Remember too, that both tulip and daffodil are related to lilies (as are iris) so do be careful with their sap, or with the water in which the stems have stood.
Azaleas as potted flowers are popular and rightly so, as they are highly attractive and shed little pollen. However, it is well worth noting that all parts of an azalea are highly poisonous, as is its pollen. Thus, it would never be wise to stick your nose into a pot of azaleas to try and smell the flowers. Luckily, few azaleas have much of any fragrance.
Camellias: Camellias come in bright white, red, or pink colors and few flowers are more beautiful than nice camellias, however they are not easy to buy from florists. Still, a gardener friend may have some you could use if the season is right…spring and fall. If you can find them, there are many wonderful fully doubled, formal double type camellias that are pollen-free. These camellias also look fabulous floating in small bowls of water on tables.
Fragrance issues: People also sometimes like to float single white gardenia flowers in display bowls, but gardenia fragrance can be very powerful and can occasionally trigger serious allergic responses.
Jasmine can be attractive in displays but it too has an overwhelming fragrance and should normally be avoided.
Hyacinths as potted or cut flowers are another that often are simply too fragrant, as are cut stocks.
In springtime lilac spays are often cut and brought inside our churches. The common, old fashioned purple lilac, Syringa vulgaris, has flowers that are heavily fragrant, but some of the different colored newer lilac hybrids, often called French Hybrids, many of these have flowers with little fragrance.
One thing to watch out for with all cut flowers, is that quite a few florists will add fragrances to the flowers, often spraying this on them. This artificial fragrance could easily trigger allergy or asthma for perfume-sensitive individuals, and we would be wise to always insist (ahead of time!), that the florists do not do this to any flowers we order.
Orchids: Very few orchids cause any pollen allergies and it is now possible to buy small pots of beautiful blooming orchids at quite reasonable prices. In recent years orchids have been developed for the cut trade, and it is now often possible to buy bouquets of cut orchids, grown especially for florists. Although there is very little allergy risk connected with orchids, occasionally there is some skin rash associated with orchids, so watch any and all sap from cut flowers. Individual orchid blooms should have their stems in small tubes of water.
Poinsettias: Although poinsettia pollen is not abundant, in a dry church it can become available, and it would never be wise to sniff these flowers. The white latex sap from poinsettia plants is a potent allergen, especially for anyone with allergies to rubber; keep poinsettia sap off your skin and away from your eyes. Other flowers to use extra caution with are all types of Euphorbia, and those pretty flowers used in Hawaiian lei arrangements, Plumeria. Plumeria sap is a well-known irritant to the eye, and all types of Euphorbias have sap that is potently allergenic.
But probably the number one most common human health concern with poinsettia plants is that far too many of them come straight from the store (or florist) already infested with whitefly. Whitefly dander is highly allergenic. Whenever you are going to purchase potted poinsettia plants to bring into your church, always carefully inspect the undersides of all the leaves, looking for the tiny whiteflies. These little pests are a bright white and congregate only on the underside of the leaf, so if you look carefully, if they're there, you should be able to see them. Do not buy any poinsettia plants that have whitefly.
Although certainly not indoor plants, pots of growing pansies, viola, and impatiens also can look terrific when brought inside and they are all very low allergy potential flowering plants. In California or Florida it might well be possible to get large sprays of bougainvillea flowers. These now come in many colors, including bright white. Double bougainvillea flowers will have no pollen at all, and even the more typical types of bougainvillea will shed next to no pollen. Bougainvillea flowers are good too, for using around perfume sensitive people, as they have next to no smell. Sprays of bougainvillea flowers will last much longer if they are cut from softer, vigorous new wood, and if the stems are stuck in water immediately after being cut. Bougainvillea flowers taken from older, harder wood will quickly wilt after cutting.
With foliage material to be passed out to the faithful, such as palm fronds, it would always be sensible to wash the fronds first. The easiest way to wash palm fronds is to stick them in the shower and rinse them well with cold water.
Christmas trees: There are always health concerns with cut Christmas trees, and with living Christmas trees, pines, cedars, or firs, that are brought inside. I always recommend that if at all possible, these trees be first hosed down well with a stiff spray from a garden hose. After the trees have been hosed down, it is wise to then spray the entire tree with a waxy retail product called "Wiltpruff." Wiltpruff is a water-soluble material that gardeners sometimes spray on new transplants to keep them from wilting. Sprayed liberally on Christmas trees, it will lock in most pollen and mold spores, and will likewise cut down considerably on the tree's smell, and as a bonus, it will also keep the tree turgid and fresher for a much longer time. You can buy Wiltpruff from many of the better nurseries, and it is easy enough to mix and spray it on, using an inexpensive one or two gallon plastic pump garden sprayer. *Note: Make sure that the garden spray rig itself is perfectly clean before you use it, as we hardly would want any residues of insecticide on our Christmas trees. (Also see, http://www.icangarden.com/document.cfm?task=viewdetail&itemid=4715&categoryid=0 for more on Christmas trees and allergies.)
Lawns: If a church service is to be held on a lawn, or if a reception afterwards is, I suggest that the lawn be mowed two to three days ahead of time, and that a lawn mower with a really good grass catcher be used, or, if no catcher is available, that all the grass clipping be raked up right after mowing.
Insecticides and fungicides: With purchased potted plants we can almost never be 100% sure if they have recently been sprayed with allergenic chemicals or not. Because of this, if the weather permits, it is always a good idea to let potted plants sit outside in the fresh air for at least several hours before we bring them inside. At the very least, they should be left to sit in a large airy garage before bringing them inside. Also, make a point to always take a careful look at the leaves of any and all potted plants you are considering purchasing. Do not buy any that have leaves that look fuzzy or sooty (probable mold issues) or any that appear to have a whitish film on the leaves (probable insecticide residue).
We can fill our places of worship with beautiful plants and flowers and not make our parishioners ill, but it does require a little bit of extra effort on our part.