Know the Plants in Your Garden — For Your Child’s Safety

Published on in Health Tip of the Week

Mother and daughter in the garden Gardening can be a great way to teach your children about food and health. But it is important to know about which plants in and around your house could be dangerous to young children if touched or eaten.

Identify the plants in your garden

John Caterfino, a specialist in poison information at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), explains that when calls about plants come into the Poison Control Center, the first thing the specialist needs to know is what the plant is. A specific identification is needed, preferably with the scientific name.

Caterfino suggests parents make the effort to identify all plants in their yard and garden — and any houseplants they may have — and to understand which may pose poison risks. Knowing which plants are safe and which are not can help you protect young children from harm.

If you don’t know the names of the plants in your garden, you can bring pictures of them or samples of different parts of the plant to a local nursery and ask them to make identifications. Ask for the scientific and common names, and save that information in an easily accessible location in your house. Once you know what is growing around your home, you can check to see if any of the plants are toxic. Search for information about poisonous garden plants on reliable websites, such as agricultural colleges or larger arboretums. The University of California, for example, has a helpful list of toxic plants.

Poisonous plants

Poisonous plants are grouped by the chemicals they contain, which affect the body in different ways. Early indications of poisoning can include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and headache. More serious effects can include changes in heart rate and blood pressure. These plants are dangerous if swallowed.

Poisonous plants include:

  • Azalea (Rhododendron)
  • Foxglove (Digitalis)
  • Hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla)
  • Jerusalem cherry (Solanum pseudocapsicum)
  • Lambkill (Kalmia angustifolia)
  • Lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis)
  • Mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia)
  • Nightshade (Solanaceae)
  • Oleander (Nerium oleander)
  • Potato sprouts
  • Rhododendron ferrugineum
  • Squill (Urginea maritima)
  • Unripe tomatoes

More information can be found on Poisonous Plants on CHOP's website.

Please note: Wild mushrooms are not plants, but can also be found in the yard or garden, and some kinds can be very dangerous if eaten. Make sure you identify the type of mushrooms growing in your garden. And in the case of an accidental ingestion, call the Poison Control Center’s 24-hour hotline at 1-800-222-1222 immediately.

Plants that irritate

Other plants can irritate the mouth, digestive system or skin if eaten.

Several types of garden plants have tiny crystals of calcium oxalate in their leaves and stems. When chewed, these crystals cause pain and swelling in the mouth. These mouth-irritating plants include:

  • Calla lily (Zantedeschia aethiopica)
  • Elephant’s ear (Caladium)
  • Mother-in-law’s tongue or snake plant (Sansevieria trifasciata)
  • Philodendron

Irritation in the mouth from these plants can be relieved by offering the child a cool drink or snack such as a popsicle, applesauce or yogurt. If your child has swelling in the mouth or throat that causes difficulty breathing, go to the nearest emergency department immediately.

Some common garden plants contain chemicals that irritate the stomach and intestines, causing cramps, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, but symptoms typically last only a few hours.

Plants with gastrointestinal irritants include:

  • Carnation (Dianthus)
  • Daffodil (Narcissus)
  • Geranium (Pelargonium)
  • Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana)

Other plants can cause skin irritation if your child touches them. Poison ivy and poison oak are well-known hazards, causing allergic skin reactions. Some common garden plants have chemicals that cause a different type of skin reaction. These plants include:

  • Chrysanthemum
  • Marigold (Tagetes)
  • Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima)

Skin irritation from plants can be relieved by washing the area with soap and rinsing with warm water. Hydrocortisone cream can be used to relieve chemical or allergic skin reactions.

More information can be found in Plants That Irritate on CHOP's website.

If your child eats or touches these or other poisonous plants, please don’t panic. It is unusual for curious children to get dangerously sick from garden plants. Instead, contact the Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222 immediately for information on what to do.

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