For those of you out there who have kids, pets, or crazy relatives that eat random leaves from your yard :), I have compiled a list with pictures of common plants in your home and garden that can make your children or pets very sick, or kill them if ingested. When my husband and I moved into our new home, I went on a digitalis (foxglove) ripping party; the purple flowers, while lovely to look at can stop the heart. Not surprisingly, scientists have found a way to transform this plant toxicity into life saving medication for patients suffering from various heart problems. Since most people don’t have a degree in pharmacology in order to harvest their backyard and household plants in the pursuit of science; it may be prudent to do away with these plants to protect your pets and children.
Accompanying the description of these plants, in many cases, is a historical therapeudic use. Many plants that are considered poisonous can really be looked at as a double edged sword. The very toxins that ward us away from consumption have been harnessed to treat disease. I would like to point out that in no way, shape, or form am I advocating consumption of any of the plants below. I merely provide therapeutic uses for context and interest sake.
Zamia Furfuracea, a.k.a, the Cardboard Palm or Cardboard Cycad is a plant that looks like a cross between a fern and a palm tree. In warm climates, you often see it in planter boxes outside while in cooler climates, it makes a pretty houseplant; but don’t be fooled by its lovely appearance. The Cardboard Palm, when any part of this plant is ingested causes dehydration, paralysis, kidney and liver failure for which there is no known antidote. This effect is seen both in kids and pets.
Lilium longiflorum, a.k.a, Easter lilies as well as other varieties of lilies are extremely poisonous to cats. If you have a cat inclined to chew leaves, as many cats do, avoid having this one in your home or garden.
Nerium oleander, a.k.a., oleander is a flowering, fragrant shrub native to the Mediterranean region of the world, but has been imported to North America and is a popular shrub for dividing meridians on highways in the U.S. because deer will eating it. Every part of this plant is deadly poisonous to both children and pets. Adults will become very sick after ingesting a dose that would kill a child. This toxic plant causes nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, abnormal or racing heart and coma. Drying the plant doesn’t help, in fact the crushed seeds of the oleander are used to commit suicide in India. It was investigated for medical use by Pliny the Elder as a cure for snake bites and more recently is being used in many herbal supplements that make various health claims. This has drawn attention from the FDA who has issued warnings to people about oleander.
Cycas revoluta, a.k.a., the Sago Palm is very poisonous to animals and humans. According to the ASPCA, 50-75% of all pets who inject this plant will die. It causes gastrointestinal irritation and can lead to liver failure.
Aconitum, a.k.a., wolfsbane, monkshood, aconite, leopard’s bane or women’s bane is extremely poisonous. Symptoms of Aconitum poisoning include burning, tingling and numbness in the mouth as well as burning in the abdomen. Your heart rate drops very low, severe vomiting and muscle weakness occur. Post mortem studies reveal that the patient appears to have suffered from asphyxiation – due to poor blood circulation, low heart rate and therefore severely reduced ability of the blood to circulate oxygen. These symptoms are from ingesting the plant, but merely touching the leaves can produce cardiac effects for hours after contact. People suffering from poisoning by touch experience numbness and tingling starting at the fingers and extending up to the shoulder. Atropine is used as an antidote. As with many toxic plants, Aconitum has been used therapeutically historically; especially in Chinese Traditional Medicine and Ayurveda to counteract to much yang energy. The Chinese and Indians have a way of detoxifying the plant for medicinal use.
The Colchicum autumnale is a flower that closely resembles the common Crocus seen in gardens. Unlike some crocuses, it blooms in the autumn. Symptoms of Colchicine poisoning resemble those of arsenic poisoning including multisystem organ failure resulting from cellular mitochondria being unable to make energy in the form of ATP. In spite of its toxicity, it is approved as a treatment for gout; presumably in small, pharmacy controlled, dosages.
Convalleria, a.k.a., Lily of the Valley is fragrant and strongly poisonous plant that contains high concentrations of cardiac glycosides; drugs used therapeutically to increase cardiac output and create a regular heart beat. This plant’s toxins can be absorbed through the skin and as such, any handling with bare hands should be followed by immediate hand washing.
Cytisus, a.k.a., broom, when injested, depresses breathing and heart rate. It is a powerful vasoconstrictor (constricts blood vessels), diuretic (makes you pee) and emetic (makes you vomit). It is used therapeutically to treat heart conditions and fluid retention, but there is high variability in the concentration of medicinal elements; therefore, this plant, if ingested can cause death from respiratory depression.
Daphne is a fragrant shrub whose berries, bark and sap are potent poisons. A child can become very sick from ingesting a single berry. Symptoms include burning in the mouth, throat and abdomen, headaches, diarrhea, delirium, convulsions, coma and eventually death. The evergreen versions of this plant produce green flowers while the deciduous versions produce pink flowers.
Delphinium, a.k.a Larkspurs are toxic in all parts of the plant due to the presence of delphinine which can cause vomiting and eventually death. Cattle ranchers in the western U.S. lose cattle to larkspur poisoning. This plant has historically been used to treat lice and nits, asthma, dropsy and eye diseases.
Digitalis, a.k.a., foxglove is a common garden plant whose flowers, leaves, stems and roots are extremely poisonous. Even a small nibble from the upper part of the the foxglove stem can be fatal. Poisonings in children have occurred when they have taken a drink of water from a vase that formerly held foxglove. Symptoms of digitalis poisoning include nausea, vomiting, irregular heart rate (fast or slow), anorexia (loss of appetite), hallucinations, delirium, severe headache, visual disturbances and convulsions. It is used therapeutically to treat cardiac arhythmias in the form of digoxin or lanoxin.
Gloriosa superba, a.k.a., flame lily or fire lily are poisonous plants that have a similar effect to Colchicum autumnale; that is, multisystem organ failure. They are incredibly beautiful to look at and deadly to eat. Be sure to wash your hands after handling this plant because the Gloriosa superba can cause skin irritation.
Laburnum, a.k.a., Golden chain is a beautiful, yellow flowering shrub with cascading flowers. All parts of this plant are toxic and many children have been poisoned thinking that the seed pods were peas. The main poisonous element is cystisine. Symptoms of laburnum poisoning include sleepiness, vomiting, severe diarrhea, convulsive movements, foaming at the mouth, unequally dilated pupils and coma.
Lantana is an orange-yellow flowering plant that is toxic to the mucosa lining the body’s gastrointestinal tract. Many children and farm animals are poisoned each year from this plant and some have found it to be a skin irritant. Cattle are badly affected and can die within 3-4 days of ingestion.
Phytolacca, a.k.a., pokeweed is a plant that produces black berries. Symptoms of poisoning include vomiting, dyspnea, perspiration, spasms, tremors, watery and/or bloody diarrhea and in severe cases where many berries and possibly the root of the plant are eaten, respiratory paralysis leading to death.
Ricinis communis, a.k.a., the castor oil plant has been widely known for years as being very toxic, even fatal if as many as 3 raw castor beans are consumed by a small child. Raw Castor Oil beans were used in WW1as an instrument of torture to induce severe diarrhea, leading to dehydration and eventual death. Ricin, a powerful and potent poison. The amount equivalent in size to a grain of salt is lethal. Ricin is found in the seed coating of the castor oil plant.
Taxus is a genus of the Yew species. All parts of the plants are poisonous, but especially the seed inside the berry. In fact, chemotherapy drugs have been derived from this plant. Deer are especially susceptible; many are found dead from eating this plant in great quantities, so it is advisable not to use this plant in areas heavily populated by deer.
Veratrum are an incredibly toxic group of plants also known as false hellibores. Many chemotherapy agents are derived from these plants. If consumed, death from cardiac failure can result. Native Americans used juice from the roots of this plant to poison their arrow tips.
Here are more poisonous plants with their noted toxic effects:
Daffodil, hyacinth and narcissus bulbs – cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea and are potentially fatal.
Iris – Severe Digestive upset
Bleeding Heart – poisonous in large amounts
Rhubarb leaves – can cause fatal reactions starting from convulsions to coma to death.
Wisteria – digestive upset
Laurels, Rhododendrons and Azaleas – fatal – nausea, vomiting, difficulty breathing and coma
Jasmine – berries can be fatal; digestive upset and nervous symptoms.
Wild and Cultivated Cherries – stems and leaves can be fatal due to a cyanide chemical released
Elderberry – digestive upset
Moonseeds – look like wild grapes and can be fatal.
Mayapple – causes diarrhea
Mistletoe – fatal to both adults and children from eating the berries
Buttercups – have liquids that irritate the digestive tract
Jimsom Weed or Thorn Apple – distorted sight, intense thirst, delirium, coma; can be fatal.
Are you a parent? Check out the Parents Helping Parents Blog at http://www.modernparent.org/2008/08/parents-helping-parents-carnival-fifth-edition/
Crazy Kids Boston has some great tips on starting a garden with your family.