Toxic Plants

Keep Your Yard and Home Safe for Pets and Children by Avoiding Poisonous Flora

Q: We want to do some major landscape renovations, and we want to make sure the plants we select are safe for our pets and our grandchildren. We’re really not sure which plants are poisonous, so we’d like some direction. Can you help?

A: It is possible to have a beautiful landscape without using poisonous plants, and you’re wise to make sure your yard is safe. Little ones, both two-legged and four-legged, have a habit of putting things in their mouths. Certain plants can cause allergic reactions in some people, but others are toxic and can cause serious problems. Never burn poisonous plants to get rid of them, because the smoke is toxic and breathing it can damage your lungs. The following list includes some of the most common landscape plants that are poisonous, but it’s by no means inclusive. If in doubt, check with your local county extension horticultural agent or your master gardener office.

The most poisonous plant I can think of is oleander, a beautiful ornamental shrub that is highly toxic. It’s beautiful, but all parts are deadly.

  • Poison ivy. Distinguish this plant from the similar Virginia creeper by the number of leaves. Virginia creeper has five leaves; poison ivy has three.
  • Angel trumpet (Datura), a shrub with trumpet-shaped flowers. All parts are poisonous.
  • American holly. The berries are toxic.
  • Common lantana. Unripe lantana berries are toxic, which is another reason not to plant this invasive exotic. Stick to modern hybrids.
  • Caladium leaves and stems, which contain oxalate crystals. They cause pain when chewed and vomiting when swallowed.
  • Foxglove, the source of natural digitalis. All parts are poisonous if swallowed.
  • Poinsettia and azalea can cause skin irritation and reaction, but neither is poisonous, contrary to myth.
  • Rhubarb. While the stems, when cooked, are tasty in a number of dishes, the leaves — raw or cooked — are poisonous.
  • Daphne. Its fragrant flowers belie the poison in its berries.
  • Castor beans, which create beautiful vines, are highly toxic. Yes, the beans are the source of castor oil, but they’re poisonous in their natural state.
  • Some lilies, the Glory Lily in particular.
  • Belladonna, also known as deadly nightshade, lives up to its common name as both the leaves and berries are poisonous.
  • A number of plants commonly used as houseplants are also poisonous, including dieffenbachia (commonly known as dumb cane), philodendron, peace lily and pothos.
  • Philodendron selloum, the large split-leaf philodendron.
  • Carolina yellow Jessamine, a flowering, climbing vine.
  • Yellow Allamanda, another climbing vine that flowers.

Before you conclude that you can grow nothing but grass if you want to keep the kids and pets safe, take heart. There are some plants that are considered safe:

  • African daisies
  • Bird of paradise
  • Boston fern
  • Camellias
  • Cast-iron plant
  • Christmas cactus
  • Fatsia
  • Figs
  • Geraniums
  • Nasturtiums
  • Orchids
  • Roses

Another way to make sure your plants are safe is to include a small vegetable patch in your landscape. Teaching your grandchildren about the joys of growing your own food is a valuable lesson for them and a fun activity you can do together.

Categories: Gardening