Keep these plants away pets and children


By CHARLES REYNOLDS, Halifax Media Group

Although most people are aware Florida's gardens and woodlands are home to numerous poisonous plants, few folks can name or identify more than a handful of them.

Easter lily. (Herald-Tribune archive)

Easter lilies thrive in Florida. (Herald-Tribune archive)

Almost everyone has heard about toxic cultivated plants such as oleanders, angel trumpets and castor beans, while poisonous native or naturalized species, more likely to be familiar to hikers, include pokeweed and rosary pea. These last two plants, however, also show up as volunteers in landscapes, so gardeners with small children should learn to identify them.

Let's begin with plants everyone admires -- lilies. While most true lilies don't perform well in Central Florida, some -- such as Easter lily -- thrive here, as do numerous plants related to the lily family. Well, they're poisonous -- including the bulbs of true lilies and all the parts of gloriosa lilies, whose toxins have killed unwary folks who ingested them. Other members of the lily family cultivated locally are cast-iron plant and the pestiferous asparagus fern.

Among our best-known and most frequently cultivated native vines is Carolina yellow jessamine, a plant that provides color and fragrance to late winter and early spring. This wonderful vine, however, is chock-full of nasty alkaloids that can cause paralysis and respiratory failure.

Yet another popular landscape plant that's not commonly thought of as toxic is night-blooming jessamine, a sprawling shrub beloved for the intoxicatingly sweet flowers that unfurl after sunset. But this plant -- unrelated to true jasmines, as is Carolina jessamine -- also bears glossy white, poisonous berries that might tempt a child.

Shifting back to bulb-generated plants, it's my recommendation that all bulbs, tubers and extra-fleshy roots be kept away from youngsters and pets because so many of the species involved are dangerous. Take one of our most beloved garden crinums (C. asiaticum). It's called tree crinum, giant crinum and poison bulb -- a reputedly well-earned name.

In a class by themselves are succulent species of Euphorbia, which in many cases resemble cactuses. These plants contain milky sap that can be irritating, especially to gardeners' eyes. A few widely cultivated Euphorbias -- such as pencil tree -- are considered extremely toxic if eaten.

While caution is advisable when poisonous plants are involved, the small number of serious incidents demonstrates that children and pets face considerably more danger from exposure to medications, household cleansers and pesticides.

Charles Reynolds has an associate's degree in horticulture and is a member of the Garden Writers Association of America.

Last modified: October 17, 2014
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