As we start to leave the winter behind and think about spring planting, one of the important subjects to think about (aside from aesthetic beauty) is suitability of plants for your particular needs. Although some flowers and plants are strikingly beautiful, underneath that stunning exterior they may be masking deadly poison. For a garden used solely by adults, this may not be overly concerning, but when children and pets also use this space, their safety is paramount. We hope this blog will provide a basic overview of three common poisonous garden plants and allow a base for further exploration of this important topic.
The Common Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea)
Although a wild and native plant, Foxgloves are popular with gardeners as they provide striking flowers throughout the summer. They are ideal for steep beds and at the back of deeper flower beds due to their height and vibrancy. Their range of colours from deep purple through to brilliant white reinforces their appeal for numerous displays of colour.
The Common Foxglove is arguably one of the most poisonous plants found readily in UK gardens. The substances of digitalin, digitoxin and digitonin which are found throughout the entire plant, are commonly used in medicine mainly in the form of the heart drug, digoxin. However, if inadvertently ingested, just a small quantity of this plant can be deadly, especially to children or pets.
The poisonous substances within the plant cause significant slowing of the heartbeat along with circulatory collapse and ultimately (if untreated) cardiac arrest. A range of other associated symptoms may be present such as general malaise, blurred vision, confusion, vomiting or drowsiness. If you suspect that ingestion of the foxglove has occurred, it is essential to seek medical attention immediately.
Deadly Nightshade (Atropa belladonna)
Many have heard of this plant due to its deadly yet romantic reputation historically whereby Italian women used it to dilate the pupils and enhance their beauty (bella=beautiful, donna=lady). Atropa stems from the Greek goddess of fate who could end human life. It has important medicinal uses including relief of abdominal pain, management of heart rhythm disturbances and during eye surgery.
This shrub-like plant is found throughout the UK, mostly in central, southern and eastern areas. It has shiny black, sweet-tasting berries along with dull purple bell shaped flowers. A number of toxic substances are found throughout the plant which include hyoscine (scopolamine), hyoscyamine and atropine.
Symptoms of ingestion vary from the foxglove and may be slower to appear. They include dry mouth, excessive thirst, pupil dilatation with associated blurred vision, hallucinations, heart disturbances and ultimately coma and seizures leading to death. An antidote exists and ingestion warrants prompt medical attention.
Common Laburnum (Laburnum anagyroides).
This beautiful tree harbours poisonous substances throughout its entire structure but it is the seedpods which bear a likeness to pea-pods which may tempt children to play with and eat these plants. It is important to note that indirect ingestion after touching the seed pods may result in poisoning. Research suggests that the reputation of the laburnum as a highly poisonous garden plant is perhaps unfair, with many other plants demonstrating higher levels of toxicity. However, the brilliant yellow flowers along with the tempting seed-pod, warrant consideration of this plant when there are young children around.
Laburnum trees contain cytisine which is an alkaloid with similar effects to nicotine. Small levels of ingestion may not result in any symptoms but higher doses can cause nausea and vomiting. Severe poisoning may cause drowsiness, seizures, and coma and unequal pupils. As with other poisonous plants in the garden, urgent assessment by a medical professional is essential..
This blog has only skimmed the surface of what could be a whole book about poisonous plants but aims to provide a helpful base for considering this important topic when planning your garden. We are not suggesting that you need to remove these plants from your garden if you have young children or pets but careful consideration of where they are planted and how they are managed can help to increase their safety.
www.medlineplus.gov, www.rhs.org, www.Iflscience.com, www.thepoisongarden.co.uk, www.dpic.org