Gardens are a lovely way to bring a spot of greenery to your home. Plants can liven up a dull corner and put a smile on your face. That is, unless they are potentially dangerous. Some perfectly harmless looking plants could be a lot more dangerous than you think.
If you thought a garden was all prettiness and some functionality, how’s this for a shocker? Some of your garden plants may be poisonous – and you may not even know it. So what are the risks you run and how can these plants hurt you? Here’s a primer on harmful plants and why you shouldn’t take any chances.
The Hidden Danger Of “Normal” Plants
Poisonous plants often look fairly mundane and can easily be overlooked as “just another garden plant.” But some like the breathtaking purple blossomed Aconitum plant (also called Monkshood) are downright dangerous. If you have little children at home, know that the plant can , understandably, attract inquisitive little hands and mouths, drawn by the beauty of the flower. The Nightshade family’s Horsenettle, which is dangerous to grazing animals, can easily be mistaken for an unripe green tomato. The ripe fruit can be poisonous to a human too, with instances of fatal outcomes in children who consumed the mature fruit.1 Poison Ivy, notorious for its almost benign appearance (mimicking a regular harmless weed), can result in the worst blisters, rashes, itching, and even breathing problems from mere contact with any part of the vine or even with someone who’s been in contact with it.2
Yellow Oleander poisoning can bring on electrolyte disturbances and cause higher serum cardiac glycoside, as well as potassium levels, and even cardiac arrhythmias.3 Foxglove leaves can make your heartbeat and pulse irregular, the reaction even proving fatal in some cases.4
Edema And Blocking Of Air Passage
A fairly common household plant, the Dieffenbachia, also called Elephant Ear or Dumb Cane, can be harmful if ingested. If you even so much as chew on its leaf or stem, you could develop oropharyngeal edema that becomes painful. If the tongue swells up too much, it can even cut off your air supply by blocking the air passage, though this is more common only in children.5
Severe Digestive Problems
Nightshade consumption can become fatal, but may begin with digestive disturbance or nervous system problems. Wisteria seeds and pods also cause digestive problems or stomach upsets that can go from mild to severe.6
Atropa Belladonna (or just Belladonna) is a deadly nightshade that can cause atropine poisoning. While vision can be blurred when your pupils dilate from atropine ingestion, if the poisoning is severe your iris may seem to vanish altogether. This effect that renders you nearly blind can linger for as much as two weeks in some cases, but a few days at the very least even when other symptoms like headaches and rashes have passed.7
Skin Blisters And Burns
Phototoxic effects from exposure to some plants can leave you with burnt and blistered skin for years. The Giant Hogweed is one such harmful plant which can bring on these problems through simple contact with your skin, especially when followed by a spell of sunlight exposure.8
Multiple Organ Failure
Monkshood can also be dangerous if handled without gloves. There have been reports of people dying of multiple organ failure because their bare skin scraped against the plant.9
Till Death Do Us Part
Some of these dangerous plants may have life-threatening effects on your body. The purple-black berried Atropa Belladonna can be fatal when consumed in large amounts. As little as one Rosary Pea seed or a couple of Castor Bean seeds can be lethal even for an adult. 10 All parts of the Laurel plant, a natural source of the infamous poison cyanide, can be fatal when ingested.
How To Spot These Plants And Protect Yourself
The Poison Garden in Alnwick Castle, England, is legendary among in-the-know nature lovers and travel enthusiasts for its formidable collection of poisonous plants. But some of these may well be growing unbridled in your own home garden. While there are some thumb rules in popular lore (like Leaves of three, let it be!) to warn you against contact with poison ivy and poison oak (both with three leaves per small stem), there is no “one size fits all” rule to spot other harmful plants. Instead, here are some simple tips to keep you and your loved ones safe.11
- Now that you are aware of the names of these harmful plants, acquaint yourself with how they look.
- When you lay out a garden and plant new seeds, be sure you buy them from a local nursery with the guidance of a trained employee. Avoid any potentially harmful plants, especially if you have little children or pets at home, as they may unwittingly consume the poisonous part of a plant.
- If you suspect you have a poisonous variety growing in your yard, do not touch it without protective gear. Avoid skin contact at all costs even while you are having it removed.
- If you develop a skin rash, swelling, or unusual reaction after touching a plant, it could be a reaction to the toxins in the plant. Try and remember which plant you touched and get medical help.
- In case you develop any more serious symptoms, you may be experiencing a more serious case of poisoning and may require emergency medical attention.
- If a child consumes what you suspect is a poisonous plant, go to the doctor immediately.
- If possible, always take a photograph of the plant so you can show it to the doctor to help him/her identify the plant in question and treat you accordingly.
While poisonous plants have no obvious reason to be grown in your backyard or window box, they are not without utility. Many homeopathic remedies that you commonly use are derived from some very poisonous plants like the Belladonna. However, while they have their utility, these plants and herbs are best grown by experts who can ensure they follow safety measures accurately and completely, to avoid endangering themselves or those around them. So for now, you’re better off viewing these special plants from the confines of a visitor’s viewing area in “poison gardens” like the one at Alnwick.
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||Horsenettle Solanum carolinense, The Ohio State University.|
|2.||↑||Poison Ivy, oak and sumac, American Academy of Dermatology.|
|3.||↑||Eddleston, M., C. A. Ariaratnam, L. Sjöström, S. Jayalath, K. Rajakanthan, S. Rajapakse, D. Colbert et al. “Acute yellow oleander (Thevetia peruviana) poisoning: cardiac arrhythmias, electrolyte disturbances, and serum cardiac glycoside concentrations on presentation to hospital.” Heart 83, no. 3 (2000): 301-306.|
|4, 6.||↑||Common Poisonous Plants and Plant Parts, Texas A&M Agrilife Extension.|
|5.||↑||Cumpston, Kirk L., Stephen N. Vogel, Jerrold B. Leikin, and Timothy B. Erickson. “Acute airway compromise after brief exposure to a Dieffenbachia plant.” The Journal of emergency medicine 25, no. 4 (2003): 391-397.|
|7.||↑||Lee, M. R. “Solanaceae IV: Atropa belladonna, deadly nightshade.” JOURNAL-ROYAL COLLEGE OF PHYSICIANS OF EDINBURGH 37, no. 1 (2007): 77.|
|8.||↑||Lagey, K., L. Duinslaeger, and A. Vanderkelen. “Burns induced by plants.” Burns 21, no. 7 (1995): 542-543.|
|9.||↑||Gardener ‘died after brushing past poisonous plant’ in millionaire’s garden, The Telegraph.|
|10.||↑||Common Poisonous Plants and Plant Parts, Texas A&M Agrilife Extension.|
|11.||↑||Poisonous Plants, CDC.|