Making your Gardens and Yards Safe for Young Children

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By Pam Teel

Deceivingly beautiful, some common flowers and shrubs planted on your property can prove to be harmful and even fatal to humans. Ingesting leaves or seeds in certain plants can cause headaches, convulsions, comas, and even death. It’s good to know what’s in your yard before you set your toddler out to explore. Now that flowers, shrubs, and trees are in full bloom, it’s important for families and caregivers to keep an eye on what young children are putting into their mouths, especially in your own environment. It would be a good idea to have some kind of general knowledge of the level of toxicity that plants around your yard contain. Perhaps the highly toxic ones can be fenced in so young curious children can’t easily get to them. (Keep in mind that this goes for indoor plants too.) Young children, not knowing any better, will put many foreign things into their mouths; things such as snails, flowers, foliage, dirt, and even wild mushrooms. Knowing where the risks are and doing something about it might one day save you a trip to the hospital for both a child and a pet. Children under six years old are especially vulnerable, accounting for 85 percent of the phone calls to poison centers nationwide. Let’s start with some common outdoor plants many of us have in our landscaping. Hydrangea- A very common shrub. Chances are you probably have one planted in your yard. They can grow to fifteen feet and come in many different colors. Ingesting the leaf could send a child into a coma. Prunus Shrub- (wild cherry shrub)- the seeds have a high concentration of cyanide. Even animals such as deer and dogs that munch on these wild cherries can die. Narcissus- Daffodils- are highly toxic and can be fatal if ingested. It’s no wonder Deer won’t touch these flowers. Holly Berries- Birds snack on them. They are not toxic to birds but the toxins can and will kill you if you mistakenly eat too many berries. Lily of the Valley- another common and popular outside plant. These plants are highly poisonous. Another plant deer won’t touch. Anthurium – generally purchased as a houseplant. There are over 1000 species of anthurium plants. They are poisonous if leaves are eaten due to calcium oxalate crystals. The sap is irritating to the skin and eyes. Ficus- Fig Tree- Not deadly but has a milky sap inside each leaf that’s highly toxic. Even touching a ficus leaf can cause a severe reaction. Azaleas- The beautiful bell shaped flowers are lethal. Toxicity levels are so high these plants can send someone into a coma in a matter of minutes. Rhododendrons- Named by Native Americans, it means suicide bush in English. Its shiny leaves looks like bay leaves. The poisonous compound found in the rhododendrons nectar can produce low blood pressure, shock and even death. Poke Berries- birds love to snack on them but they are poisonous to humans. A handful of these can kill a human. Foxglove- called the witches thimble; it can cause serious heart issues and possibly death if any part of the plant is eaten. Castor Oil Plants- sometimes planted to keep moles and small burrowing animals at bay; this self-sown weed has toxic seeds, flowers, and leaves. Ingesting just a few seeds can cause severe nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. Pink or Yellow Oleander- every part of this shrub is poisonous. Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, irregular heartbeat, dilated pupils and coma leading to death. Angel Trumpet- the flowers, seeds, and nectar is very poisonous to humans. Belladonna Lily- the sap and bulb are highly toxic to children. Mushrooms and Toadstools- although most of the toxic species are found in the forest, it’s good to remove all mushrooms and toadstools from your yard. Native White Cedar- eating the fruit from this tree can cause nausea, vomiting, confusion, and seizures. Euphorbia Genus- sap from these common plants can cause severe eye pain and eye injury. It’s also known as spurge and milkweed. This also includes the Christmas poinsettia. Rhubarb- all parts especially the leaves are poisonous. The stem is edible if boiled. If you or someone in your care has been exposed to a poisonous plant, don’t hesitate to call NJ Poison Control at 1800-222-1222, even if you have a question to ask. If ingestion of a poisonous plant does occur, try to take a piece of the plant with you for quicker identification and treatment. In the next issue we will discuss common plants harmful to dogs and cats. Here’s a tip until next time. Don’t let your cat chew on Day Lilies, even the native orange ones found in this area. They are highly toxic to cats and will cause kidney failure. They are not toxic to dogs.