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Foxglove plants

It's Nature's Way

Respecting Poisonous Plants

Aloe vera plant
Wisteria flowers
Hydrangea bush
Lily of the Valley

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of plants from around the world that can cause a range of symptoms from a mild skin rash to serious digestive upset.  A quick search for simple lists provided way more results than I anticipated, and I learned something new.  One list from the UK said that Aloe vera is poisonous. My B.S. meter started zinging but I dug a little further and found this to have some truth. Aloe is commonly used to ease the discomfort of skin problems, and is also used medicinally for certain digestive issues, but many people are very sensitive to the yellow juice that sometimes surrounds the Aloe vera gel that is so beneficial. This is generally found only in older plants but if you cut away the skin and the layer containing the yellow juice, you will gain the benefits of the plant and not suffer the detrimental aspects.

There are plenty of other well-known and frequently grown garden plants, house plants and weeds that cause illness and it is wise to know what they are, especially if there are children and pets around. Of course, it is important to teach children not to put any plant parts in their mouths in the first place!

Blooming now are wisterias.  Their cascades of lush blue, pink or white are spilling over fences and dripping from trees in May. The entire plant is toxic. Most sources say that eating any part of this plant will cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and cramps that would require medical treatment.

Digitalis, also known as foxglove, is grown commercially to make a heart drug by the same name.  Ingesting any part of this plant can cause your heart to race dangerously, or even stop completely, but only after severe gastric distress.  These beautiful plants grow in shady woodland gardens and have spikes that can reach six feet tall.  Purple, white, apricot, yellow or spotted bell-shaped flowers are held on tall straight stems.

Any Breaking Bad fan will know this next one. Convallaria majalis (Lily Of The Valley) appears in early spring with tiny nodding white bells.  All plant parts are extremely poisonous. Eating a little may give you the same digestive and heart symptoms as digitalis, but if enough of this plant is consumed the results could be fatal. This is important to know for pets, too.  These little flowers fall off by the hundreds, and a curious pet may scarf them down before you even know it.

Rhododendrons and azalea bushes grace yards everywhere. They look great in the yard come springtime, but the leaves are toxic. Eating either from these evergreen shrubs will make your mouth burn, then you’ll have those same gastric symptoms in addition to tingling skin. Enjoy your rhodies and azaleas, just don’t eat them!

Our beloved hydrangea is another poisonous plant!  These ubiquitous blooms in deep blue, rose, lavender or white are used frequently for decorating wedding cakes, but there is no harm if the blossoms are removed before the cake is cut. The buds are the most poisonous part, causing symptoms similar to cyanide poisoning. Luckily, there is an antidote for hydrangea poisoning.  All hydrangeas – macrophylla, paniculata, quercifolia- are dangerous if ingested.

Sometimes though, the symptoms are much milder. The sap of most ficus species can deliver a mild toxic punch when it touches your skin. These plants have a milky sap in their leaves that you should avoid.  Mild skin irritation is common, but someone who is very sensitive may develop wheezing and some difficulty breathing, requiring medical attention.  The doctor will probably give you an antihistamine.

While chrysanthemum flowers are included on many edible flower lists, it is known that the leaves and stems are toxic.  For some, just touching the foliage can make them itch and puff up a bit, a classic allergic reaction.

Believe it or not, some people have confused daffodil bulbs for onions and inadvertently become poison victims. They may be cheerful harbingers of spring, but they will give you – you guessed it – severe gastric distress and convulsions if enough has been consumed..

Nearly 40 years ago, my mother was in the hospital recovering from surgery when a man was brought in who was terribly sick from eating some berries.  His English was not very good, and he just kept saying ‘berry.’ Mom, in her wide knowledge of the great outdoors, and continually trying to eradicate the noxious weed from our land, knew immediately that he had eaten poke berries and they were then able to treat him. Deep purple-red, juicy poke berries show up late in summer and do look like they would taste good, but they need to be left for the birds.

Fortunately, serious poisoning from ornamental plants and weeds is pretty rare, but when it happens it is quite scary.  If you think a child or adult has eaten part of a doubtful plant, seek medical advice immediately from a hospital emergency department. Take part of the plant with you so it can be identified. If you know what the plant is, call 1-800-222-1222 for US Poison Control Centers.

Do not panic and DO NOT try to make the person sick.

If your animal has eaten a poisonous plant, call your veterinarian and have a sample of the plant when you go for treatment.