Daniel Gill, Merrill, Thomas A. | 1/29/2007 11:18:33 PM
By Dan Gill
LSU AgCenter Horticulturist
Horticulturists don’t often discuss the fact that many of the plants we grow as ornamentals are considered poisonous.
After all, cases of people eating poisonous plants are relatively rare, and there is no need to cause the public undue alarm. But there is a need for people – particularly those with children – to be aware that poisonous plants exist in our landscapes and inside our homes and to know how to deal with the situation.
A surprising number of indoor and outdoor ornamental plants are considered poisonous. Among them are indoor plants such as dieffenbachia (dumb cane), Chinese evergreen, pothos ivy, English ivy, florist azaleas and philodendrons, which are common in many homes. In the landscape, popular plants such as amaryllis, azalea, caladium, elephant ear, iris, lantana, oleander, privet, sedum, wisteria and yellow Jessamine possess at least one poisonous part. And those are just a few examples.
Since we’ve established that these plants probably are around most homes, here are some safety measures to prevent problems with poisonous plants:
–Never leave young children unsupervised outdoors. Be especially careful when children are around colorful flowers, berries or mushrooms.
–As soon as they are able to understand, teach children to never, under any circumstances, chew on or eat any part of indoor plants, plants in the landscape or wild plants. Also, teach children to recognize poison ivy and stay away from coming into contact with it.
–Do not make medical preparations from plants for yourself and, in particular, never make such things for your children.
–Don’t believe old sayings about eating unknown plants if you get lost in the woods. Although birds and other animals may eat it, it is not necessarily harmless to people. There is no safe, simple test for poisonous plants. Cooking does not always destroy the poison.
–Do not grow poisonous houseplants if you have young children, or at least make sure the plants are not accessible. But it would be better to stick to nontoxic indoor plants if you have children.
–Always store seeds and bulbs for your garden in a safe, inaccessible place where young children cannot find them.
–Do not eat unusual parts of familiar edible plants. While the tubers of potatoes and the fruit of eggplants, tomatoes and peppers are edible, the foliage and green tissues contain toxic alkaloids that might make you sick if consumed in sufficient quantities.
In case of poisoning or suspected poisoning, call your family physician immediately and be prepared to tell him or her the name of the plant that was eaten. Or take the patient along with a piece of the plant to the emergency room of the nearest hospital.
Most adult poisonings involve the eating of wild mushrooms, and most cases among children involve the very young. Common sense, caution and educating children are the best ways of preventing problems with poisonous plants.
Pets Are At Risk Too
Don’t forget that pets and other animals can be at risk, too.
Most poisonings of animals by plants involve livestock, such as cows and horses. But any veterinarian will tell you that poisonous plants are potentially harmful to pets, as well, although most pet poisonings occur because of ingesting human medications.
Puppies and kittens, in particular, are bad about chewing on plants. Adult dogs that are home alone most of the day and get bored may also chew plants. You should not grow poisonous plants indoors if you have dogs or cats that might eat them.
Since pets cannot be taught which plants are poisonous, keep them away from poisonous plants, particularly those indoors. Contact your veterinarian immediately if you suspect your pet has eaten a plant or plant part – whether you know it is poisonous or not. Time usually is critical when such things occur.
I’ve encountered a few instances where dogs have eaten the seeds of sago palms (Cycas revoluta) and almost died or died as a result. Dog owners (or anyone with dogs in the area) should remove the developing seeds now (January is better) to prevent ingestion by dogs. Sago palms appear on the ASPCA’s top 10 list of plants poisonous to pets, along with lilies (particularly for cats), tulip, narcissus, azaleas, rhododendrons, oleander, castor bean, cyclamen, kalanchoe and marijuana.
For More Information
The Louisiana Drug and Poison Information Center is located at the University of Louisiana College of Pharmacy in Monroe. The emergency phone number is (800) 222-1222. The Web site is at www.lapcc.org.
You also can find extensive information on poisonous plants on the internet using a search engine. The University of Pennsylvania has a good site at www.cal.vet.upenn.edu/poison/common.htm.
For pets, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has an excellent Web site for information. You can see a list of common toxic plants at www.aspca.org/site/PageServer? http://pagename=pro_apcc_toxicplant and a list of nontoxic plants at www.aspca.org/site/PageServer?pagename=pro_apcc_nontoxicplants.
Get It Growing is a weekly feature on home lawn and garden topics prepared by experts in the LSU AgCenter. For more information on such topics, contact your parish LSU AgCenter Extension office or visit our Web site at www.lsuagcenter.com. A wide range of publications and a variety of other resources are available.