Know Your Plants

Plants are pretty. They come in a wide variety of colors, shapes, and sizes. Children are especially attracted to plants that smell good, look colorful, have berries, and are within easy reach. Enjoy the plants in and around your home even more by knowing which plants are safe and which are harmful.

While the vast majority of plants are harmless to humans, poisonous plants are commonly found in our homes, gardens, and public areas. Plants poison people in two ways – contact with the skin and contact with the mouth, including swallowing. Reactions range from mild skin irritation to much more serious effects. It is common that one part of a plant is poisonous while other parts are not.

Different types of poisonous plants affect the body differently. Stomach upset, including vomiting and diarrhea, and skin rash are the most common problems. Some examples of plants that can cause stomach upset include: pokeweed, ivy, Jerusalem cherry, and the bulbs of the daffodil and iris. Poinsettia can be a mild irritant, but only in very large quantities, and is not considered to be very poisonous.

Almost any plant can cause a skin rash (dermatitis) in sensitive people. Daisy, black-eyed-susan and hyacinth are some common examples of plants that can cause dermatitis. Poison ivy is a plant found in all parts of the United States. Most people are allergic to the oily resin or sap of poison ivy. You can get a rash by touching any part of the poison ivy plant, or anything that has come in contact with poison ivy and still has the oily resin on it (for example, gardening equipment and tools, toys, pets, clothing, shoes, gardening gloves, camping equipment and sports gear). However, contact with fluid-filled blisters that occur on about the second day of the rash does not spread poison ivy elsewhere.

Some plants have calcium oxalate crystals, which cause burning and swelling of the throat, tongue, and mouth. Jack-in-the-pulpit, philodendron, and dieffenbachia are among the many plants that have this needle-like irritant. Rhubarb contains another type of oxalate. Eating large amounts of rhubarb leaves may damage the kidneys and other organs.

Foxglove, lily-of-the-valley, and oleander are very toxic. They are examples of cardiac glycosides. Cardiac glycosides can affect the heart rate and rhythm. Symptoms may include nausea and vomiting, belly pain, slowed heart rate, irregular heart rhythm, dropping blood pressure, and lethargy. Death may occur in severe cases.

Other plants can have hallucinogenic or stimulant effects.

Know your plants. A few prevention steps will make for a safer area at home, school, or work. Contact your poison center for a list of safe and unsafe plants.

  • Identify plants – a nursery or garden center may be able to help you.
  • Label the plants in and around your home.
  • Determine which plants are safe and which may be harmful.
  • Teach children not to eat leaves, berries, buds, or flowers.
  • Keep plants out of the reach of young children. Even a safe plant can be a choking hazard.
  • Store seeds and bulbs in a safe place.