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Poisonous Plants


I never realised there were that many poisonous plants, let alone poisonous flowers, until I started researching the topic. In fact, I am surprised I ever outlived my childhood, considering how many of these potentially toxic plants I picked as a child!

Some poisonous plants are well known, for instance the laburnum with its beautiful - but deadly - yellow flowers, and some are obvious, eg deadly nightshade, poison ivy, etc ... the clue is in the name. But I didn't realise that apples or apricots could also be considered poisonous. Apparently the pips or stones contain a chemical which can be harmful if ingested. And what about daffodils or buttercups?

Skull and CrossbonesThe golden rule for young children must be to teach them not to eat ANY flowers, berries or plants from the garden, and to always wash their hands well after playing outside. Later on, as they get older, one can then help them to recognise the more poisonous plants, and also introduce them to edible flowers!

One of the benefits of poisonous plants is that they tend often to taste bitter, which will usually put one off eating the toxic parts, be they leaves, bulbs, berries, seeds, flowers, etc. Also, it is not always the whole plant which is poisonous, but only part of it, eg rhubarb stems are edible and frequently grown in gardens, while the leaves are toxic (and can be used to make rat poison!), and though daffodil flowers are harmless, the bulbs and stems can cause stomach upsets.

The following list is not either an extensive or concise list of ALL poisonous plants, just some of those we would most likely meet in gardens, so please do check out the toxicity of any plant before purchasing or planting. The Royal Horticultural Society websites lists over 75 000 plants and their characteristics on their searchable database.

  1. Poisonous trees and bushes
  2. Poisonous Parts of Fruit and Vegetables
  3. Poisonous Flowers

Poisonous trees and bushes

LABURNUM: are small deciduous trees with bright yellow pea-shaped flowers. The flowers are highly toxic if ingested.

YEW (Taxus): small evergreen trees or shrubs of rounded habit, with dark-green needle leaves and fleshy red berry-like seedpods (on the female plant). Most parts, but especially the seeds are highly toxic if ingested.

HOLLY (Ilex): deciduous or evergreen bushes and trees with often spiny leaves, small flowers and berries (female plants). The berries can cause stomach upset.

OLEANDER (Nerium): evergreen shrub clusters of funnel-shaped flowers, followed by long, bean-like seed-pods. The whole plant is highly toxic and skin contact with the foliage can irritate.

IVY (Hedera Helix): evergreen climbing shrubs, with small flowers and often black berries. All parts can cause stomach upsets and skin contact with foliage can irritate.

COMMON BOX (Buxus): evergreen shrub or small tree with clusters of small yellow flowers and pale green or brown berry-like fruit. All parts can cause stomach upset and skin contact with foliage can irritate.

PRIVET (Ligustrum): either deciduous or evergreen bush or small tree, often used as hedging around gardens. Small flowers in spring or summer, and dark berries in the autumn. All parts can cause stomach upset if eaten.

HORSE CHESTNUT (Aesculus): deciduous tree which produces the conkers we all like to play with. The conkers though are toxic and can cause stomach upset. Not to be confused with the rather similar looking edible chestnuts!

RHODODENDRON also known as AZALEA: deciduous or evergreen shrubs, often grown in borders or as flowering specimens due to the large number of beautiful flowers. The whole plant is toxic and can cause stomach upsets and even difficulty breathing and comas if ingested.

For a more comprehensive list please see the RHS list of Potentially harmful garden plants.

Poisonous Parts of Fruit and Vegetables

While these are not poisonous plants as such - after all, we are encouraged to eat at least five portions of fruit and veg each day - certain parts of them can be toxic.

Remember: any unripe fruit or vegetable can cause stomach upset and generally affect the gastrointestinal system.

APPLE: the seeds/pips are toxic, containing cyanide.

APRICOT: the kernel, which looks a bit like an almond, also contains cyanide, and children have died as a result of eating a few of them. However, they do taste very bitter, so most children - if they even try eating a kernel - will be put off by the taste.

RHUBARB: while the stems are used for all sorts from jam to wine, the leaves are highly toxic.

POTATOE: unripe or green potatoes are toxic, as is the foliage. Hence the need to store potatoes in the dark and cut out any parts which are green before cooking.

TOMATO: the unripe fruit of the tomato plant can cause stomach problems, while the stems and foliage often irritate the skin.

STRAWBERRY: a number of people develop allergic reactions to strawberries.

BRASSILICA: these are vegetables such as cabbage, kale, brussel sprouts, etc. A number of people find them indigestible and develop allergic reactions to them. If your child really doesn't like sprouts, there might be a valid reason for it!

While a number of these 'poisonous plants' can and do at times cause serious health complications and even death, the majority don't have such drastic effects or have to be eaten in large quantities before they do much damage. However, it is best to be aware of any possible toxic effect a plant may have, especially when considering planting up gardens for young children. Don't let this list put you off eating apples!

Cherries: While the fruit is delicious, the cherry stone contains cyanide and is very toxic. Be careful not to let the children swallow them (quite apart from the chocking hazard!) and when making jams or jellies, ensure no stones are accidentially included.


Next: Poisonous Flowers

 

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