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When it comes to protecting our families from poisonous plants, we go about things wrong, all wrong. Backwards, in fact.

Yes, you are probably already aware that a great many common garden and container plants are poisonous to humans and/or family pets. But if I asked you to identify the ones posing the greatest risk to you and your family, chances are you'd be stumped, or perhaps hard pressed to name more than one or two.

Why? Because we learn about poisonous plants from our teachers at school, from books, and from television. We see pages and pages of photographs of toxic leaves and berries. We scan ultra-long lists of poisonous plant names. The nerdier among us (Ooh! Me! Me!) have tried and failed to memorize some of this mass of information.

Silly thing is, your own yard is the best starting point for learning. Once you feel confident in your own landscape, it will be much easier to branch out and learn about less well-known species, which I'll discuss after the jump. And check out my gallery below if you'd like to see some of the common poisonous plants growing in my yard.

Poisonous Plants 101(click thumbnails to view gallery)

LantanaGeraniumPhilodendronOleanderAsparagus Fern

First, get out in the yard and get your hands dirty. If you have little nippers, get them out, too. Take the time to learn the names of all the plants you have, whether in the garden or in containers. Then check 'em out in your gardening books or online to discover which ones are hazardous to people or your furry family members.

Second, realize that you don't necessarily need to eradicate all toxic plants from your yard. In fact, toxic plants are so common that our yards and lives would be pretty barren if we did remove them all. Here are some examples of plants we'd be loath to live without: geranium, daffodils, lilies, buttercup, privet, and rhododendron. Yet all of them are poisonous to varying degrees.

Okay, I totally recommend ridding yourself of anything that causes extreme irritation or pain on contact, such as poison ivy or my own personal arch-nemesis, Dieffenbachia. However, if a plant is not poisonous unless ingested, you can leave it be. Just be sure to educate your family members about the dangers posed by a toxic plant, and ensure little ones and pets don't try to munch on any part of it. Mother Earth News has an excellent article on poisonous plant safety.

Bottom line: teach your children which plants are dangerous and don't let them touch, pick, rub, chew, lick, jump on or climb any part of them. Naturally, younger kids will need lots of old-fashioned supervision.

Third, let's bust a common myth about poisoning: it is no longer recommended that poison victims be given syrup of ipecac. So ignore that unsolicited advice from well-meaning relatives or from websites (even including the otherwise-excellent Mother Earth News article mentioned above). You don't need a bottle of this concoction in your medicine cabinet "just in case."

Fourth, a reassuring thought for parents: poisonous leaves and berries frequently (although not always) taste nasty. This acts as a natural deterrent against children and pets who are tempted to ingest them.

So what should you do if you or someone else is poisoned?

Simple. If the person has collapsed or is not breathing, call 911. If it is not urgent, call the American Association of Poison Control Centers hotline at 1-800-222-1222.

If your pet is poisoned and it's an emergency, rush your pup or kitty to your vet immediately. Call ahead to let the staff know you're on your way. If it's after hours, find your nearest emergency veterinary clinic. For more advice, call the ASPCA's poison hotline at 1-888-426-4435, but be aware they may charge you a hefty fee for this service.

Previous Avant Yard post: 30 uses for a dead tree


  • Laura

    Thank you for mentioning us on your Web site. We’re happy you enjoy Mother Earth News.

    Great post on poisonous plants. Glad our article was useful to you.

    Laura Evers
    Mother Earth News

  • diane.rixon

    Thanks so much! I really liked your website!


    Goodness, I should be dead by now as I have four of your five plants in my garden and have been regularly pruning them without gloves for the last 18 years or so!! Lantana, Geraniums, Philodendron & Asparagus Fern.
    I will ask this question.....why would anyone want to eat lantana seeds????

  • diane.rixon

    Excellent point. Well, as I said in my post: many plants are poisonous to some degree, so I would never try and eradicate them. Secondly, it's good to be aware which are dangerous for your own safety, but especially for the safety of kids. No, you would not eat lantana seeds, but a toddler might! So, for example, this info helps me a lot because I can relax when my toddler plays around the pansies and handles the flowers. I know they are not toxic. But I keep her away from the lantana and oleander. Third, some people have more sensitive skin/allergies than others. I find my skin really reacts from repeated exposure to some of those plants. Others might have no reaction at all. Like you (you lucky duck)! Thanks for your comment!

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