Poisonous plants have had a place in gardens for millennia, in either an ornamental or medicinal capacity. Some plants, like poison ivy, generally aren’t considered to have any qualities that make them desirable in the garden. But there are many others that avid gardeners deem worth cultivating despite their toxicity.

Even those gardeners that don’t intend to grow their own home apothecary should learn to recognize them. They should also properly handle potentially dangerous ornamental plants. But let’s see how to take care of these plants.

poinsettia with butterflies

What Are Poisonous Plants?

Poisonous plants are, in short, those in which all or part is capable of causing toxicosis in humans or animals. Almost all plants, including many common food plants, have some toxic portion. Elderberry trees, for one, can release cyanide gas when their uncured wood is burned. For most gardening purposes, poisonous plants are considered those that pose a higher-than-normal risk of toxicity.

Oleander, a versatile, fast-growing evergreen shrub, can cause life-threatening symptoms after ingestion. Poisonous plants aren’t restricted to a particular climate zone or part of the world. So it’s important to practice common sense precautions and be fully aware of the toxic potential of every plant in the garden.

Top 5 Varieties of Poisonous Plants

Some families or genera of plants are well known for their poisoning potential. The top five types of poisonous plants all gardeners should be aware of include:

  • Solanaceae, like tobacco, datura, and belladonna: Not all solanaceae are poisonous -tomatillo, for example. But many of its best-known members are famous for their potentially lethal psychoactive compounds.Digitalis, or foxgloves. These plants contain cardiac glycosides.
  • Aconitum, like monkshood: These plants are poisonous enough to cause toxicity from being picked without gloves. Also, their roots may be confused for edible plants.
  • Euphorbia, like poinsettias or euphorbia obesa succulents: These popular houseplants contain a milky sap that can cause extremely painful reactions in the eyes and skin.
  • Convallaria, or lily of the valley: These sweet-smelling flowers contain a whopping 38 cardiac glycosides, among other toxic compounds.

How to Grow Poisonous Plants in Your Garden

Poisonous plants encompass multiple varieties from all over the world. Each has its own particular sun, watering, and soil requirements. That said, there are some guidelines for growing and handling these plants safely:

  1. Wear long sleeves, pants, and gloves. Some plants, like euphorbia, secrete sap that contains toxins. Take precautions to keep them from coming in contact with bare skin.
  2. Consider keeping them in containers. As mentioned above, you might confuse monkshood roots for those of other, less harmful plants. Keep poisonous plants from proliferating into areas where they are subject to confusion.
  3. Keep pets and children away. Grow poisonous plants where they won’t pose a temptation for children or animals to try to handle or ingest them. Store all roots, seeds, wood, and dried leaves where children can’t reach them.
  4. Do not ingest any unknown plants. A good rule of thumb is that one should be as secure in identifying a plant as they would be an apple from a grocery store.
  5. Avoid smoke from burning plants. Burning yard waste may contain poisonous plants. Moreover, some of their toxins may be carried on the smoke.

poisonous plants

Other Tips for Taking Care of Poisonous Plants

  1. Wash hands thoroughly, and remove and wash any clothing worn while gardening.
  2. Do not make homemade tea, medicine, or skin care products from poisonous plants. Indeed, some poisonous plants have medicinal value. But it is virtually impossible for a home gardener to determine how much of a toxic compound is in a particular plant.
  3. Do make homemade toys from poisonous plants. The woody portions of some poisonous can release harmful compounds if you chew or swallow them. This is valid even for non-poisonous plants, like apple.
  4. Have the number for the Poison Control Center handy. In case accidental ingestion, skin contact, or eye contact occurs, be ready to contact the Poison Control Center. The staff will give you instructions on how to minimize the damage.

Cleaning Up

Poisonous plants may sound intimidating. But most gardeners are raising at least one or two of them in their homes or gardens right now. They do this possibly without even realizing it. There are countless species out there that have proven to be poisonous and gardeners still grow them for flowers, attractive foliage, or (like many euphorbia) their unusual shapes and growth habits.

By minimizing exposure to the plants’ toxic portions, it’s possible to keep these beautiful, unique specimens in a garden completely without incident.

Images from pixabay.com.

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