Caster Bean is a pretty but deadly addition to a garden

Caster Bean is a pretty but deadly addition to a garden.

We treasure our children and pets but sometimes we’re supremely unconscious of the dangers lurking in the garden. The simple truth is that some of our ornamental plants are poisonous, although — before you panic — rest assured that most of our plants are safe. However, some are truly toxic and should be avoided if you are harboring curious little ones.

Be aware that some plants that trouble us don’t affect our dogs or cats. Poison ivy is one example: 85 percent of people are allergic to it but due to their coats, cats and dogs are usually protected from this scourge. Please note that if your pet rubs up against poison ivy, you can initiate the telltale rash simply by petting them.

Don’t assume that plants that aren’t poisonous to us are safe for our pets. Remember that we can feast on chocolate whereas dogs, lacking the enzyme to digest it, should not eat it. For this reason, avoid cocoa bean mulch. All parts of lilies and daylilies are highly toxic to cats but only cause mild indigestion in dogs.

Likewise, some plants, such as hydrangeas, are dangerous to dogs and cats. I had to research whether hydrangeas were poisonous to humans only to discover that we have to eat large quantities before we’re affected. “Please don’t eat the hydrangeas” has suddenly entered my lexicon.

The plants to be truly concerned about are those plants that can create problems if swallowed. Calla lilies, caladiums, and colocasias can create serious problems if swallowed, resulting in swelling of the mouth and throat areas. Eating Ilex (holly) or Mirabilis (four-o-clock) will result in nausea and diarrhea. Eating azaleas or rhododendrons can bring on paralysis or a coma while ingesting Daphne will result in death.

Just because one part of the plant is edible doesn’t mean the whole plant is. Tomatoes and potatoes are obviously edible — but avoid their leaves, vines, and sprouts, as they are highly toxic. Rhubarb has edible stems but comes with extremely poisonous leaves.

While apricots, peaches, nectarines and cherries enliven our taste buds, leave their seeds and leaves alone, as they contain varying levels of cyanogenic glycoside. Should these plant cells be damaged, this compound can produce cyanide. For this reason please don’t use any of their branches or twigs as roasting sticks—it makes sense to stick with regular skewers.

All this isn’t meant to scare you but when we have young children and animals in the garden, we need to know what is safe and what isn’t. In my experience, puppies, kittens, and toddlers are curious and adventuresome — and many have a strong temptation to put something in their mouths.

For a complete list of unhealthy plants for your dogs and cats, go to: For an official listing of safe and unsafe plants for children, go to: Simply put: It’s better to be safe than sorry.

The following is a list of truly toxic common garden plants:

  • Caster bean (Ricinus communis) — the seeds contain ricin and are highly attractive to young children;
  • Daphne — all parts are poisonous, especially the fruit;
  • Datura and Brumansia — 20 years ago these were popular additions to the summer garden. All parts are poisonous, especially the seeds;
  • Foxglove (Digitalis) — all parts are toxic;
  • Lily-of-the-Valley (Convallaria majalis) — avoid all parts, including the vase water containing the cut flowers;
  • Pieris — leaves and the flower nectar are poisonous;
  • Wisteria — the seeds are especially poisonous but avoids the pods and bark;
  • Yew (Taxus) — the bark. Leaves, and seeds are toxic.

Absent from their gardens, Kit and Lise enjoy roaming our region exploring the intersection of horticulture and suburban living. More on Instagram @AbsenteeGardener or email:

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