Poisonous Plants

Ever wonder whether those scrumptious-looking, bluish berries in the yard are edible? You’re an adult, and you should know better than to eat them, but the temptation is there. If the berries are tempting to you, they are probably even more so to a child. To be safe, better find out what they are. Just under 4% of poisonings in the U.S. are caused by plants. You can find potentially dangerous plants all around you.

It’s worthwhile to identify the dangerous plants inside your home, in your garden, and in nearby woods and parks. When purchasing new plants for your home or yard, it’s wise to ask about potential toxicity. When purchasing a new home, it’s prudent to identify the plants in the landscape.

Four Ways Plants Can Get You

Poisonous plants can cause 4 different kinds of reactions.

  1. Ingesting very toxic plants can cause serious injury or death.
  2. Ingesting less toxic plants can cause vomiting or diarrhea.
  3. Some plants exude juice or sap containing oxalates. Oxalates are needle-shaped crystals that can irritate your skin, mouth, tongue, and throat. The result can be swelling, burning pain, breathing difficulties, and upset stomach.
  4. Some plants have juice, sap, or thorns that can cause skin rash or irritation. Some rashes itch. Others can be very painful.

Some Common Poisonous Plants

The table below lists some common plants that are toxic to humans. The center column shows which part of the plant is dangerous, and the third column indicates the usual reaction from the list of the 4 possible reactions listed earlier.

Common Poisonous Plants

Plant Toxic Part Reaction
Azalea All parts 1
Belladona All parts, especially berries 1
Calladium All parts 3,4
Castor Bean Seed, foliage 1
Chinaberry Berries 1
Columbine Berries 2
Cyclamen Tuber 2,4
Daffodil Bulb 2,4
Daphne Bark, berries, especially seeds 1
Death Camas Bulbs 1
Delphinium All parts, especially seeds 1
Dieffenbachia All parts 3
Elephant Ear All parts 3,4
Four O’Clock Root, seeds 2,4
Foxglove All parts 1
Heather All parts 1
Holly Berries 2
Hyacinth Bulb, leaves, flower 2,4
Hydrangea Leaves, buds 1,4
Iris Root 2,4
Jimson Weed (Datura) All parts 1
Jerusalem Cherry All parts 1
Lantana All parts, especially berries 1
Larkspur All parts, especially seeds 1
Lily-of-the-Valley All parts 1,4
Mistletoe Berries 2, 4
Monkshood (Aconite) Flowers, leaves, root 1
Morning Glory Seeds 1
Mountain Laurel All parts 1
Mushrooms (poisonous) All parts 1 (some cause hallucinations)
Nightshade All parts, ripe berries 1
Oleander Leaves, branches 1, 4
Pampas Grass Grass 1
Philodendron All parts 3, 4
Poinsettia All parts 2, 4
Poison Oak, Poison Ivy Leaves 4
Potato Greens 1
Rhododendron All parts 1
Rhubarb Leaves 3
Scotch Broom Seeds 2, 4
Spider Lily Bulb 2
Tomato Non-fruit parts 1, 4
Water Hemlock All parts 1
Yew Bark, needles, seeds, berries 1

The seeds or pits of the following fruits can cause vomiting or diarrhea:

  • Almond
  • Apple
  • Apricot
  • Black cherry
  • Cherry
  • Crabapple
  • Loquat
  • Nectarine
  • Peach
  • Pear
  • Plum

Plants That Are Poisonous to Pets

Pets are prone to chew on anything nearby. It’s important to protect them by removing toxic plants from the house and yard. The following are a few common plants that are dangerous to pets.

Dogs: Onion, garlic, heavenly bamboo, schefflera, and dracaena

Cats: Calla easter lily, philodendron, pothos, and scindapus

Birds: Avocado

How to Protect Children and Pets

By following some basic steps, you can help protect your children and pets from being harmed by toxic plants.

  • Know the names of your poisonous plants.
  • Show babysitters and grandparents where to find the list of plant names.
  • Keep dangerous plants out of reach of pets and children.
  • Teach children never to touch or eat plant parts.
  • Teach children that sucking nectar from flowers is unsafe.
  • Never let children suck on jewelry made from decorative beans or seeds.
  • Store labeled bulbs and seeds safely out of the reach of children and pets.
  • Never collect wild herbs to eat or brew as tea, unless you are trained to identify them properly.
  • Don’t burn dangerous plants. Smoke from burning poisonous plants can irritate your eyes, nose, throat, and lungs. This is especially true of poison oak and ivy.

What to Do in an Emergency

If you, or someone you know, has eaten a poisonous plant, there are some steps you should take.

  • Remove any plant parts from the mouth.
  • If the victim is choking and can’t breathe, dial 911. Otherwise, call the Poison Control Center.
  • If you are asked to describe the plant over the phone, determine the following:
    • What part of the plant was eaten?
    • What kind of fruit was eaten? Berries? Nuts?
    • Can you describe the fruit in detail—color, firmness, juiciness, and so forth?
    • Can you describe the plant?
    • Where is the plant growing?
    • Can you describe the size, shape, and arrangement of the leaves?
  • If you are told to go to an emergency room for treatment, take the plant or a portion of the plant with you. Take more than a single leaf or berry.
  • If you must go to a nursery to identify the plant, go quickly, but don’t panic. Plants are digested slowly.

Plants serve us in many ways—they beautify the environment, purify the air, release oxygen into the air, and yield fruit for the table. Yet, you can find poisonous plants everywhere. It’s best to gain a little knowledge and be safe—and move that poinsettia out of Junior’s reach.


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Author:Gale Boyd