Rhododendron, irises and azaleas are on most lists of poison plants, says Soloway, a registered nurse and associate director of the American Association of Poison Control Centers. But that's not as worrisome as it sounds.
"A child would have to eat an awful lot of azaleas to get very sick," says Soloway. "And as for irises, it's really only the bulb you need to worry about."
The bottom line, she says, is that most plants aren't really deadly, though some can make you sick. "There are very few deaths as a result of eating backyard plants, mostly upset tummies with vomiting and diarrhea," she says. "So unless your child has other medical problems that might make them vulnerable, they are probably not at risk of dying."
Nevertheless, Soloway says, small children like the bright colors of flowers and berries and are tempted to put them in their mouths, and the child's size makes even a small amount more toxic than for adults. Plants also are a choking hazard.
Some people assume that a poisonous plant will taste bitter or unsavory, preventing a child from eating much of it. Not so, says Soloway: "Children don't taste things the same way we do, so you can't rely on a kid not liking the taste of a flower or plant."
These are all good reasons to teach children not to eat or lick plants.
What plants should you avoid in your yard?
"Both these plants can cause an irregular heartbeat or suppress the heartbeat," says Soloway. The botanical name for foxglove is digitalis, originally used as a heart medication.
Soloway points out that monkshood has been known to be deadly since the middle ages. Fortunately, it's not very pretty, so it isn't often planted in backyards.
- Lily of the Valley.
"This is a plant that can really upset the stomach if eaten," says Soloway.
Berries come out in late summer and fall, and some are not to be eaten. Soloway warns, "A common berry that can make you sick is the holly berry. Be careful eating berries in general unless you know exactly what it is." For example, there are several blue-colored berries similar to blueberries but not edible.
What about poinsettias that we always hear will make children and pets sick?
This is a common misconception, Soloway says. Poinsettias do not cause stomach problems.
What else should parents keep their kids away from?
One of the most dangerous plants a child can eat in a yard are the mushrooms that appear after rain. "Dandelions ar fine," she says, "but mushrooms are bad news."
This one is critical: "Don't let a child anywhere near a lawn or shrub bed that's been treated with a pesticide for at least 24 hours. It can be dangerous for children even to just inhale the fumes or get it on their clothing."
- Poison Ivy.
"We get lots of calls because many parents still aren't sure what it looks like," says Soloway. Poison ivy has three divided leaves and a pointed end. The whole plant is toxic - the leaves, flowers and the berries that come out in the fall.
Keep a sample of the plant so the poison experts can identify it if necessary. How sick a child gets depends on many factors besides the plant itself, including the child's age and size, how much was ingested and what other medical conditions the child might have.
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