Ask A Master Gardener – Any Day is a Good Day in a Garden

All parts of Foxglove are poisonous, possibly deadly, if swallowed.

Any day is a good day, if spent in a garden. There are so many proven benefits to gardening that it is almost hard to list them…beautifying the landscape, getting exercise, reducing blood pressure and cholesterol, decreasing depression, producing nutritious foods, and more. However, as with any venture, caution must be exercised in order to keep things on a positive note.

Most plants in the landscape are beneficial and provide beauty, nutrition, delight for the senses, or even medicinal rewards. Some, however, are poisonous.  Ingesting, or in some cases, touching, specific plants can have undesirable results.  Consequences can range from mild discomfort (nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or stomach cramps) to a fatality.  Gardeners need to be aware of the plants that can cause harm to themselves, to children, and to pets.

Toxicity can vary depending on the part of the plant consumed. For instance, rhubarb leaves are toxic to humans and should not be consumed.  The stems are quite safe and delicious, making many consumers happy with a springtime rhubarb pie or crisp.

Other plant toxicity is species specific. Dogs and cats can romp through a patch of poison ivy with nary a response.  Let a human do the same and it will result in a painful, blistering, itching rash. Pokeweed berries (Phytolacca Americana) are eaten by birds, deer, and other animals.  However, just a small amount will kill a child and not many more will fell an adult.

In this case, size does matter. Children with their smaller body weight will have a more severe reaction than an adult male.  Metabolism can also play a role with different people reacting differently to the same dosage.

Taste is not an indicator of toxicity. Some poisonous plants have a pleasing flavor, therefore do not expect a child or pet to spit out the berry thinking it does not taste good.  The best course of action is to become familiar with the plants on the landscape that are poisonous and are in an area accessible to children, pets, or others likely to sample their wares.

A complete list of toxic plants in Wisconsin is available at: http://www.wisconsinpoison.org/Poison-Center1/Educators/Plant_Booklet_2007.pdf  The most common garden plants that can have serious consequences are:  Azalea, Lily of the Valley, Hydrangea, Foxglove (digitalis), Larkspur, Oleander, Purple Nightshade, Mistletoe, Water Hemlock, and Castor Bean. These plants are some of the deadliest, with all parts of the plants being toxic, and some having berries or roots that are more hazardous. They can cause heart, liver, digestive, and neurological issues.  In some cases, like oleander, a single leaf contains enough toxins to be fatal to a small child.  If exposure occurs, do not waste time; seek treatment immediately.

While it is unlikely that an adult will pop the berry or leaf of an unknown plant into their mouth, children and pets have no such qualms. Therefore, it is advisable to be aware of the plants that cause problems and protect fragile individuals.  The Wisconsin Poison Control Center number is 1-800-222-1222.  Located in Milwaukee, it provides 24-hour, toll-free service for everyone in Wisconsin.  If an animal ingests something, call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at 1-888-426-4435. (There is a fee per case for this service, charged to the phone bill.)

Be wise, be aware, be educated, and garden on.

Carol Shirk

Certified Master Gardener

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