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Gulf & Main Magazine

Flower Power - Careful of what you grow, danger lurking in the garden, consult experts

May 22, 2017 12:01AM ● By Kevin

Photo by Ann Marie O'Phelan.

They’re nice to look at. But a large number of household and garden plants can put us and our pets in danger of sickness.

Or worse.

Toxic plants are a chief cause for pet and livestock illnesses, even death. They play havoc with curious kids, too. Consider the purple flowered lantana that adds color and interest to any garden. Ingested, however, the plant can cause gastric problems and even circulatory collapse. Caladiums, with their patterned bold leaves, make great looking houseplants. Again, not so great going down; expect indigestion and swelling and irritation of the mouth, lips and throat. Although a lovely ornamental plant, sago palms are dangerous to dogs, in the worst scenario cause vomiting and liver failure. Oleanders are also lovely shrubs that are widely used as hedges, yet they are toxic to livestock, pets and humans, causing stomach upset, abdominal pain, sweating and weakness. 

You get the point. The University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) Extension office, in fact, lists dozens of toxic and common poisonous plants on its website, including naturally growing weeds and forage for livestock, aquatic and invasive plants. Most of these aren’t necessarily deadly but do cause a host of troubles relating to toxicity.

So before deciding to spruce up the house or garden, experts recommend studying what plants may be easy on the eyes but bad for our health. Your best bet is checking with a master gardener at the greenhouse, a county agriculture agent or a certified landscaper. Garden clubs and the web are also helpful. Poisonous plants can include more than the obvious ones you already know better to stay away from, such as poison ivy or poison oak. “You can’t tell if a plant is poisonous just by looking at it,” says Dr. Roy Beckford, an agricultural expert and director of the Lee County UF/IFAS Extension office, a natural resources and educational agency dating back decades to rural farming and livestock production.

One supreme indicator to not ignore for a possible toxic plant is looks, Beckford says. Not everything dangerous is a weed. Take, for instance, the boldly beautiful amaryllis plant. The bulbs and seeds of this plant can cause serious health problems for pets ingesting them, as can other lilies, azalea, holly, mistletoe and daffodils. Mold from Christmas firs plays havoc on pets drinking stand water, for instance.

One plant that has the reputation of being poisonous, when in fact it isn’t, is the poinsettia. “Not one part of these holiday beauties is toxic to either people or pets,” explains Beckford, although, again, ingestion can cause stomach upset or the milky sap could cause skin irritations or allergic reactions.

Signs to look for in possible plant poisonings “can range from lethargy to seizures,” says Dr. Tina Wismer, the medical director for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Animal Poison Control Center, or AAPCC, adding that if your pet is acting odd, drowsy or vomiting, it’s important to contact the family veterinarian or a pet poison hotline. If possible, and in the case of an emergency, bring a picture of the plant or the plant itself so that it can be correctly identified. “The number one reason for calls to poison control centers is due to poisonous plants,” explains Beckford.

So how do you keep your landscaping, garden, and home safe for children and pets?

“It’s important to know what plants you have in your yard,” says Wismer. By taking photographs and properly identifying the plants at a nursery, an extension office, or even online, can be a start, she says, warning that “if you know what the risks are beforehand, you can reduce access to those areas by using detractors such as chicken wire or by removing the plants,” she adds.

Written by Ann Marie O’Phelan, a Southwest Florida resident and a frequent contributor to TOTI Media. 

Photo courtesy of ASPCA.

Poison Control Issues