Blanket flowers, or Gaillardia, are beautiful perennials blooming in bold colors. It’s said that they’re called blanket flowers because their bright colors and eye-catching patterns resemble Native American blankets and because of how they blanket the ground. But do blanket flowers make you itch?
Blanket flowers make you itch because they contain chemicals known as sesquiterpene lactones. These chemicals are allergens found in various parts of the plant, and they can cause contact dermatitis, which shows up as an itchy rash.
In this article, I’ll explore why blanket flowers make you itch. I’ll also look at how you can safely handle them to reduce the risk of an adverse reaction from touching them.
Why Blanket Flowers Make You Itch
Blanket flowers make you itch because of two factors:
- They have chemicals called sesquiterpene lactone.
- They have prickly hairs on their leaves and stems.
They Contain Sesquiterpene Lactones
Blanket flowers contain sesquiterpene lactones, chemicals that are known for being skin irritants. These are carbon molecules that are the most notable allergens found in the Asteraceae, which is the daisy family of plants of which blanket flowers are a member (source).
These chemicals are found in numerous parts of the plant, such as the leaves, flowers, stem, and pollen. The sap, which is mainly found in the leaves of the plant, is irritating to the skin and can also affect the mucous membranes, causing pain or swelling, although this is less commonly reported (source).
Making contact with this sap can cause skin irritation and rashes (source). One of the sesquiterpene lactones that gaillardia plants contain is gaillardin (source). This chemical is a potential skin irritant for people who have sensitive skin.
Therefore, if you are sensitive to certain chemicals, such as sesquiterpene lactones, you could experience skin irritation from the plant or its pollen. You also have to be careful with any creams or lotions that contain these plant extracts, as those can also be irritating to your skin (source).
Although the sap of the gaillardia plant is present in various parts of it, you don’t have to worry about skin irritation from handling the seeds of the plant. However, the seeds have sharp edges, which can poke your skin. It’s, therefore, a good idea to wear gloves when handling or harvesting them from the plant.
Interestingly, this plant’s sap does have a benefit for gardeners: it serves to deter deer from the garden so they won’t attack the plants or ruin flowers.
They’re Covered in Prickly Hairs
Another thing that makes blanket flowers irritating to the skin is that they’re covered in fuzzy hair. These hairs are prickly and itchy when they make contact with the skin. The hairs are present on the leaves and stems of the plant.
The seeds of the plant also contain spiky hairs that can also irritate or prick your skin, so wear gloves whenever you plant them. However, don’t try to pull off and remove the hairs, as they’re part of the gaillardia seeds (source).
How To Prevent and Treat Itchiness From Gaillardia
To prevent itchiness and other skin issues that arise from handling blanket flowers, you should always protect your hands with gloves if you’re planting or maintaining your plants.
You should purchase long-sleeved gloves that are useful when handling and planting gaillardia in the garden. I’d recommend GLOSAV Rose Pruning Gloves (link to Amazon). These are heavy-duty leather gloves that protect your hands from sap, thorns, and prickly plants.
If you’re carrying the flowers around, you should cover your arms by wearing a long-sleeved T-shirt.
Be careful when brushing past these flowers in your garden. Also, keep them away from high-traffic areas.
If you do make contact with the plant’s sap or you see skin irritation, you should immediately wash the affected area with soapy water to reduce its effects. Dishwashing soap is recommended as it will remove the oils located in the sap.
Other things you can do to treat skin irritation from your gaillardia plants include:
- Scrubbing your hands well with soapy water. Make sure you use a brush to scrub underneath your fingernails to eliminate all of the plant sap (source).
- Use a wet compress. If your skin is irritated or inflamed, wet compresses will provide relief by cooling your skin. To make a wet compress, soak a towel in water before applying it to your skin.
- Consider an oatmeal bath. This is great for eliminating symptoms of skin irritation, such as itching. Sprinkle one cup (80 g) of oatmeal in lukewarm water. Soak affected skin in the water for about 15 minutes, then pat your skin dry.
- Apply calamine lotion to the rash. To treat an itchy rash on the skin, you can apply soothing calamine lotion to get relief. I’d recommend Amazon Basics Medicated Calamine Lotion (link to Amazon). It relieves itching and pain and can be used to treat plant-related reactions and insect bites.
- Clean your gardening tools after use. If you’ve used gardening tools on your gaillardia plants, clean them properly after use so that you don’t make contact with any sap residue. To remove sap, apply a bit of lighter fluid on a cloth and use this to wipe off sap (source).
It’s not always easy to identify a rash from coming into contact with a plant. If you’ve made contact with sap from the gaillardia or other plants containing sap, you will experience symptoms such as the following, although the intensity of the reaction will vary from one person to another:
- Bumps on the skin
- Skin swelling
- Severe itching
Although gaillardia, or blanket flower, is a beautiful perennial plant to have in your garden, you should protect your skin from it so that you don’t come into contact with its sap. If the sap does irritate your skin, causing itchiness, you can treat it by washing your hands with soapy water.
You can also prevent skin reactions from contact with the gaillardia plant by wearing gloves.