Every year in British Columbia, there are over 26,000 poisonings that are reported to the B.C. Poison Control Centre. That works out to over 70 calls per day! Over half of all poisonings occur in children under the age of 6 years old (toddlers between one and three years are most at risk) and there is one child every hour poisoned in British Columbia alone. Those are quite frightening figures for parents or other caregivers to consider. The most common poisons that children ingest are cough/cold medications, pain/fever remedies, plants, and household cleaners. Even pets are not immune to poisoning. Cats and dogs routinely fall ill after eating something that disagrees with them. I read that a cat died after eating only three leaves from a Poinsettia.
If you have ever watched children, you will notice that they tend to put anything and everything into their mouths (unless you want them to eat their spinach or broccoli of course). I have heard of kids eating slugs and worms from the garden. I can remember myself, as a young child, chewing on the four-foot tall stalks of some weed on the side of the road because it looked like rhubarb and had an unusually tart taste. To this day I still have no idea what it was.
Can a gardener really make a difference in preventing poisoning in children and/or pets? Yes! You can definitely make your garden more child and pet friendly by avoiding all highly poisonous plants. Only planting completely edible plants, however, is going to make for a boring garden. For example, the following are some common garden plants that you may have never known were toxic:
Elderberry (Sambucus) is a deciduous shrub or small tree with white flowers in the spring and lovely summer berries. The red or blue berries grow in bunches and have 3-5 smooth seeds. The cooked berries are edible and are delicious in jams and cordials but uncooked berries, leaves, twigs, and seeds contain a poisonous compound. Eating them may cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Large amounts may cause lethargy, dizziness and drowsiness. Toxicity is not expected with ingestion of the cooked berries.
Azaleas/Rhododendrons are considered toxic. Azaleas are less toxic than rhododendrons. Every part of the plant is not to be ingested. Symptoms include burning in the mouth, salivation, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Autumn Crocus or Meadow Saffron is highly toxic. The Autumn Crocus is used to create the drug for gout, Colchicine. Colchicine has a relatively low therapeutic index, which refers the fact that a tiny bit can be therapeutic but it doesn’t take much more to kill you! This makes it dangerous for overdosing.
Daffodils/Narcissus are considered toxic (especially the bulb). Ingestion of any part of the plant may cause nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea.
Iris bulbs and other plant parts are considered toxic and may cause mouth, stomach, or skin irritation.
Mushrooms can be extremely poisonous. Never eat a mushroom that you are not 100% certain about! They can cause death.
Flowering plum and cherry trees have toxic compounds contained in the seeds of the fruit. Ingestion of 1-2 pits is probably okay but be careful with children.
Cherry laurel also contains toxic compounds in all parts of the plant.
Tulips are nontoxic but the bulb may cause dermatitis.
Foxgloves are woodland biennials that grow to 3 feet tall with drooping purple, pink, or white flowers. These are sometimes dotted inside and they grow along a central stalk. The Latin name is Digitalis purpurea, which might sound familiar; leaves from the plant are a commercial source of the heart drug digitalis. If you eat any part of these plants, you will likely have heart problems after a spell of nausea, vomiting, cramps, diarrhea, and mouth pain.You may need your stomach pumped or medication to bring your heart rate back to normal.
Some others include Wisteria, Yew, Lily of the Valleys, Chrysanthemums, Holly, Meadow Rue, Morning Glory, Vinca, Rhubarb leaves, Bleeding Heart, Hellebores, Broom, Solomon’s Seal, Butterfly Weed, Larkspur, Hemlock, Lily, Monkshood, Clematis, Primrose, Columbine, Snowdrop, Oak, Sumac, just to name a few.
Learn about each of your garden plant’s toxicity by checking online or in a garden reference book and be concerned if you have any plant that is highly poisonous. Plants that have some toxicity but will not cause loss of life are not as worrisome. Teach your children at a young age about the dangers associated with eating unknown plants. And most of all, try your very best to always keep an eye on the little ones when they are in the yard; it only takes a moment for them to pop something into their tiny mouths. Poisoning is not the only danger with garden plants; choking is also a hazard.