Hay fever? Avoid these sneezy NZ plants

Beautiful New Zealand - heaven or hell? If you suffer from seasonal allergies, you're probably not in love with our great outdoors.

NZ’s particular plant mix of trees, grasses and wild weeds produces pollen over several months a year, extending the hayfever season longer than seen in most other parts of the world. In fact, May and June can be the only months that airborne pollen lowers to a level tolerable to those extremely sensitive to seasonal allergens.

Coupled with our windy climate, we have the perfect storm for hay fever sufferers. The wind transports pollens huge distances from where they are produced, so there’s almost no escaping these allergens, even in our biggest cities.

So what’s causing us to sneeze and itch the most? Here’s our list of the most common plants in New Zealand making life miserable for hay fever sufferers.

1. Macrocarpa (Cupressus macrocarpa)

The pollen of this magnificent tree is a potent allergen – up to 30% of attendees tested at an asthma clinic in Melbourne reacted to it. If you’re prone to hay fever, watch out for this one, especially as it produces pollen for eight months a year.

Grows: Mainly in rural areas as shelter belts and often planted near houses and farm buildings for shade

Pollen season: From July to February (late winter to the end of summer)

Here's what it looks like:

2. Pine Trees (Pinus radiata)

Pine trees cover around 1.6 million hectares and make up around 89% of our plantation forests. With each mature tree capable of producing up to nearly a kilo of pollen over the three months from July to September, it’s not uncommon to see yellow clouds of pollen being moved far and wide by the wind.

Grows: Pine forests grow all over NZ and pine trees can be found everywhere from school gate to farm gate

Pollen season: From July to September for Pinus radiata but then other species of pine start producing, extending the season out to December (winter to start of summer)

Here's what it looks like:

3. Plantain (Plantago major/plantago lanceolata)

Plantain is a low growing weed that produces pollen for seven months a year. Unlike pine, each plantain plant produces only a small amount of pollen, but because it grows in our

parks, lawns and on the roadside, there’s lots of individual plants contributing to the pollen count over summer.

Grows: Commercially as a pasture mix for dairy cows and grows freely in parks, roadsides and lawns.

Pollen season: From September to March (spring to autumn)

Here's what it looks like:

4. Olive tress (Olea europaea)

A relative newcomer to NZ, the number of olive trees has grown since the 2000s to around 750,000 trees. Most of these are planted in commercial operations across the east coast of the country, from Northland to Canterbury with pockets around the Kapiti Coast, Nelson/Marlborough and Central Otago.

Grows: Commercially in large areas with a dry climate but is a common ornamental tree in many home gardens.

Pollen season: From October to March (late spring to end of summer)

Here's what it looks like:

5. Gorse (Ulex europaeus)

With distinctive yellow flowers and prickly branches, gorse produces pollen for an eye-watering nine months a year from autumn to the end of spring. Bees and pollinators love it as a reliable food source. Kiwis love it less so – it’s become our most invasive scrub weed.

Grows: Where doesn’t it grow?! Particularly prevalent in rural areas, especially hill country.

Pollen season: From March to November (autumn to end of spring)

Here's what it looks like:

6. Birch trees (Betula)

While birches don’t produce a lot of pollen compared to other plants, some people are extremely sensitive to it – birch pollen allergy is thought to affect around 25% of hay fever sufferers in the UK, triggering not only allergic rhinitis (nose) and allergic conjunctivitis (eyes) symptoms but also pollen food syndrome, which appears as allergies to certain plant based foods.

Grows: Mostly in the South Island where temperatures are cooler and winters cold

Pollen season: From September to November (spring)

Here's what it looks like:


7. Grasses

Think meadow foxtail grass, rye grass, tall fescue, prairie grass and various types of dogstail. In fact, view all grasses as unfriendly to hay fever sufferers to be on the safe side – certainly

one or other are bound to set you off. While the pollen season is long, it peaks just before and around Christmas.

Grows: Sure to grow in a place near you!

Pollen season: Meadow foxtail can start as early as August while many others won’t start until September or October and go through to late February/March (early spring to late summer)

Here's what it looks like:

8. Privet (Ligustrum)

All four species of privet in New Zealand are poisonous to humans and regarded as pests. While there’s a debate around whether their pollen count is high enough to cause many allergy problems, anecdotally Kiwis report having an allergic reaction to privet such as sneezing, irritated eyes and other typical hay fever symptoms. So it’s worth bearing this in mind if you’re prone to seasonal allergies.

Grows: Privet is not fussy – it tolerates a wide range of climates from droughts to cold and wet conditions

Pollen season: From November to March (late spring to early autumn)

Here's what it looks like:

If any of these plants trigger your hay fever, check out some of our self-care tips to help manage seasonal allergies

Disclaimer: This blog post is for educational purposes only. It is not designed to diagnose, treat or cure any disease.