Are there dangerous plants lurking in your garden? That pretty flower or leaf, or even the colorful bark you’ve been admiring, may cause redness, itching, blisters or even death! Because many tropical plants are toxic, those of us in South Florida have to be knowledgeable about selecting safe plants for our gardens. And, if children and/or pets frequent your garden, then you need to be extra vigilant of what’s growing out there.
I’m going to first dispel the age-old assumption that the Poinsettia plant is poisonous. It’s not. It was proven in a well-known university study to be, at best, a mild irritant. Unfortunately, it’s been given a bad rap. It is an innocent and lovely holiday plant. In fact, in California, they use Poinsettias as hedges, similar to the dreaded ficus we usein South Florida.
As for the truly poisonous plants, knowledge is your best defense. If you haven’t already taken an inventory of your plant collection, do it soon. Every gardener should know exactly what is planted in his or her garden. That’s just common sense.
Here is a list of plants that you might want to think twice about before planting in your garden:
• Oleander: A drought-tolerant plant that likes full to partial sun, it features spectacularly colored flowers and a pleasing fragrance. A popular plant found on roadway medians and highway overpasses, and hopefully, out of harm’s reach of children, pets and tourists. Don’t be fooled by its beauty. It is one of the most poisonous of all common garden plants. The entire plant is poisonous. In fact, mild irritation can occur by simply touching it.
Thereis an old tale about a group of George Washington’s men who mistakenly used Oleander wood for an evening campfire. By morning, they were all dead. The smoke is extremely toxic. Foxglove is also in this same category.
• Castor Bean (Ricin): An outdoor ornamental plant, it can cause burning and respiratory failure. I’ve actually seen this growing on U.S. 41, along the East Trail, about 10 minutes outside Naples. Rosary Pea is also in this category.
• Croton: Its milky sap can cause skin irritation or rash.
• Sego Palm: The enticing red seeds from this plant are deadly. They look like candy and are very inviting, especially to dogs. Be careful if you have children and/or pets.
• Lantana: Every part of this plant is poisonous, but the berries are especially toxic. Ingestion will cause seizures anddifficulty breathing.
• Brazilian Pepper: It causes mixed acute reactions in humans, including itching, redness, swelling and blisters, either by direct or indirect contact. Ingestion can be poisonous. This is the most exotic invasive plant in South Florida.
• Deadly Nightshade (Atropa Belladonna): Both the berries and the leaves of this plant are extremely toxic. It also seeds easily, as I have pulled out more than my fair share while landscaping in South Florida.
• Rhubarb: Most of us enjoy a piece of Rhubarb pie now and then, which is made from the stems of this plant. However, eating a large quantity of its leaves can result in difficulty breathing, burning of the throat and mouth, and even death. Symptoms usually set in one hour after ingesting the leaves, and include convolutions, coma and death.
• Dumb Cane (Dieffenbachia):If you lived up north, you probably had Dumb Cane as a house plant. Down here, it’s a native tropical landscape plant. It’s also one of the world’s most poisonous plants. A couple nibbles of this plant can cause voice loss, excessive salivation, and in rare cases, swelling of the throat leading to strangulation and death.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying to never plant these varieties. Just be mindful that they present a hidden danger to unsuspecting visitors in your garden. Sometimes, certain plants don’t play well with others and have to be somewhat isolated.Just like certain people.
Join Mike Malloy every Saturday at 4 PM for “Plant Talk with Mike Malloy,” a call-in gardening radio show on WGUF 98.9 FM, Naples talk radio, starting December 7, 2013. Listen in and all him with your gardening questions and success stories.