Avoiding Poisonous Plants

People are using more cultivated exotic plants in their homes for decoration and around their homes for landscaping. An increasing number of families are camping and turning to the "great out-of-doors" for recreation. All these activities present opportunities for increased contact with unfamiliar plants and increase the chances for poisoning. Certain plants can be poisonous in one way or another for adults, children, and pets.

Form of Poisoning

Poisoning from a plant may take one of several forms which can affect either humans or our pets:
Allergies or allergic reaction to wind blown spores or pollen.
Dermatitis, or skin irritaion, caused by direct or indirect contact with a plant.
Internal poisoning caused by eating plant parts.
Mechanical injury from spines or thorns; not actually poisoning, but may lead to infection necessitating medical attention.

Avoid Poisoning

For Humans
If small children are part of the picture, avoid the use of plants with known poisonous properties especially those with poisonous berries or other attractive above ground features. Plants with poisonous root systems are less likely to cause problems since the roots are not readily visible. Teach children at an early age not to play with plants or eat berries or other plant parts without permission from a knowing adult.

In addition, children should be taught NEVER to sample any fruit or plant part without first asking an adult. Infants, toddlers, and young preschoolers should be well supervised at all times while playing outside to prevent accidental poisoning.

Become familiar with plants in your area.
Do not eat any plants, wild or in the landscape or inside the home that are not normally considered to be safe plant food.
Keep plants, bulbs, and seeds away from children.
Teach children to recognize poison ivy.
Be sure to know the plants used by children as play things.
Do not allow children to suck nectar from flowers or make tea from leaves.
Avoid smoke from burning plants.
Remember, heating and cooking do not always destroy poisons.
There are no "rules of thumb" for distinguishing edible from poisonous plants.

For Pets
Keep suspect houseplants away from easy access by your pet
Pets eating plant material can also be a cause for concern. Unfortunately, some plants that are non-toxic to humans can be dangerously toxic to cats and dogs. Much of the literature available is based on human exposure rather than domestic animals. Local veterinarians will have information on pet poisoning. Poison control centers can also provide information.


ermatitis is dependent on previous sensitivity of the individual. It ranges from temporary skin irritation to painful blisters. The severity depends on: the plant contacted, the degree of contact, and the relative susceptibility of the individual.

Some plants are known to cause skin irritations for some individuals. Locate these plants away from sidewalks and paths so people aren't as apt to brush against them. In the case of potential skin irritation, wash thoroughly with soap and water the skin areas that may have come in contact with the plant. In many cases, washing immediately will greatly reduce the irritation.

In case of suspected contact with dermatitis-causing plants, wash immediately with strong soap.

Plant causing dermatitis:
Boxwood - leaves
Century plant - sap
Ginkgo - seeds
Horse apple - milky sap
Oleander – leaves
Other plants suspected of causing dermatitis:
Pawpaw - fruit
Poison ivy - all plant parts
Poison oak - all plant parts
Poison sumac - all plant parts
Trumpet creeper - leaves

Internal Poisoning

Internal poisoning does not depend on any previous sensitivity of the individual. Poisonous does not necessarily mean fatal. Some plants are only mildly toxic and some which may be poisonous when consumed in quantity have medicinal uses in small quantities. The toxicity is dependent upon:

The age of the person and status of health in relationship to the quantity ingested.
The form that the plant part was in at time of ingestion (i.e., cooked vs raw, ripe fruit vs unripe fruit, etc.).
Relative attraction or appeal that a plant possesses such as showy "edible-looking" fruit.
The internal poisons are a group of chemically different substances that when ingested:
Act on the brain causing narcotic reactions and other mental disturbances.
ffect the spinal cord resulting in paralysis and convulsions.
Act as heart depressants and stimulants.
Irritate the digestive tract and nervous system.

If You Have A Problem

If a potential poisoning occurs, don't panic (easier said than done)! Remove any plant parts remaining in the mouth. Try to determine how many berries or how much of the plant the individual ate. Eating any unidentified berry, plant, mushroom, or toadstool requires prompt medical assessment. Call a physician or the poison information center (1-800-272-6477) for the best course of treatment, which varies on a case-by-case basis.

In case of poisoning, call physician and be prepared to give:
Name of plant if known
How much and which parts eaten
How long ago it was eaten
Age of individual
A good description of plant if name not known. Save any uneaten parts for identification.

An important step in minimizing problems is to label plants or have a landscape plan that identifies the plants in the yard and garden. In the event of an exposure to any potential plant poisoning the first thing the poison center will want to know is the plant name. It is important to have the latin name for the plant rather than the common name. Only one plant can have that particular latin name; however, several plants can be known by the same common name.

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