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Safety a concern with plants.

My niece and nephew are now old enough to come and stay with their aunt and uncle. Besides having to take vitamins to keep up with a 2-and 3-year old, my wife and I have learned what it really means to childproof a house.

We knew enough to put all cleaning products and chemicals where they could not be accessed, along with sharp objects, small items that could be swallowed, and a never-ending list of other things that could cut, gouge or choke a toddler.

After several phone calls from their mother inquiring about whether or not a plant leaf that was just chewed on could be poisonous, I started looking around the house and garden at plants that could pose, a problem.

Foxglove, castor bean, holly and mistletoe are a few plants that most every gardener realizes have the potential to cause harm if ingested. But when I started to make a list of potentially harmful plants, what I found amazing was the number of common plants found around our homes that have potential for harm.

Aloe, calla lily, Chinese evergreen, dieffenbachia, croton, elephant ear and philodendron are listed in various references as having toxins within them that are poisonous. Other plants considered toxic include English ivy, and the bulbs of amaryllis and daffodils.

Even if you don't have any of these houseplants in your home, you're not out of the woods yet. A few common flowers found in gardens that are considered poisonous to varying degrees include larkspur, star-of-Bethlehem, caladium, nicotiana, iris, spurge, false indigo, lantana and periwinkle.

In addition to holly, there are a number of common landscape plants that also have the potential to cause health problems to the unknowing.

Some of the most common landscape plants that have been reported to be toxic when eaten are azaleas and rhododendrons, boxwood, pyracantha, mahonia, hydrangea, trumpet vine, Japanese honeysuckle, Virginia creeper, Boston ivy, and wisteria. This is a short list of the many plants I found listed in reference books that have the potential to cause problems to humans.

The thing to remember about all these plants is that many of them fall into the poisonous category because they cause some type of irritation to the human body. There are plants, such as foxglove and hemlock, that we know can be lethal, but many of the plants listed in the reference material can show symptoms of poisoning, yet there is no information on how much of each plant will cause problems.

When I began thinking about this topic for the safety of my niece and nephew, I thought getting rid of all the potentially dangerous plants around the house would not be that difficult. However, after finding the extensive list of poisonous plants, I realized that it would not be possible to completely childproof the garden. Instead, I found that it is extremely important to know all the plants in the garden and be able to identify them to medical personnel in case a problem should arise.

It also is important to be careful with our four-legged friends. The plants we bring into our home and gardens also can affect cats and dogs.

My wife and I have a cat that becomes bored and begins munching on everything from the mother-in-law tongue to the artificial Christmas tree. Lazarus, whose name fits him well, would more than likely chew on an Easter lily if we were to bring one into the house. Easter lily is extremely toxic to pets, especially cats, because it causes kidney failure, which can lead to death.

Many plants that can affect us negatively also are harmful to pets. Some of the plants we might find in our gardens that are toxic to our furry friends include asparagus fern, devil's ivy, weeping fig, lilies and caladium.

It is important for the welfare of our pets, as well as children, to know the plants we have inside and outside of our homes. If a pet begins acting lethargic after nibbling on a certain plant, the veterinarian needs to know the name of the plant so that a decision on the type of treatment, if any, can be determined.

Take the time to learn what plants you have in your house and garden.

Mike Lang is a horticulturist from Perry, Kan.
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Title Annotation:Through The Garden Gate; toxic plants
Author:Lang, Mike
Date:Feb 1, 2005
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