Serious poisoning by plants is not common in the UK. Some garden plants present a hazard, but the risk of severe poisoning, skin reaction or allergy is generally low.
MadeForMums got the low-down on some common plants that could pose a risk from Guy Barter, chief horticultural advisor for the Royal Horticultural Society as well as from Miranda Janatka at BBC Gardeners’ World Magazine.
“Certain plants have the potential to cause harm, but hardly ever do,” says Guy. “Remember, it’s not just children but also pets that can be vulnerable, too.”
“The vast majority of accidents in the garden involve falling off ladders and hardly anyone gets hurt by plants. It’s more a question of awareness and educating children about plants,” says Guy.
Miranda adds that “all plants, unless known to be edible, should be assumed harmful”.
13 poisonous plants your toddler should watch out for…
1. Giant hogweed
One mum is warning against the dangers of hogweed after her son suffered serious, painful burn-like blisters on his hands and arms, says the Mail Online.
While it’s a pretty plant (often found beside riverbanks and along paths), the sap is toxic. It can causes the aforementioned blistering and extreme sensitivity to sunlight. If it gets in the eyes, it can cause blindness.
Avoid touching or even playing near hogweed. If your child comes into contact with the plant, the NHS website advises:
“If you touch a giant hogweed, cover the affected area, and wash it with soap and water. The blisters heal very slowly and can develop into phytophotodermatitis, a type of skin rash which flares up in sunlight. If you feel unwell after contact with giant hogweed, speak to your doctor.”
“If eaten, they could cause harm and sickness,” Guy says. “The bulbs could be mistaken for garlic or a spring onion.”
“It has been reported that the sap can cause skin irritation and dermatitis, but I haven’t come across any instances of this actually happening in practice.”
3. Chilli peppers
“Chilli peppers are a tasty vegetable, but as anyone who has chopped up a chilli and rubbed their eye knows, it can be extremely painful,” says Guy.
“They are a skin and eye irritant, they might burn tender skin and can be transferred to eyes and lips on the fingers,” he adds.
“Children could be vulnerable if not taught about avoiding and taking care with washing hands after handling chillis.”
“This is one of those plants you might find around the garden and mistake for something else, and it’s poisonous if eaten, but you’d have to eat an awful lot of it,” says Guy.
“If eaten, it can cause nausea, vomiting, visual disorders and heart problems,” he explains.
5. Aconitum napellus
Aconitum napellus goes by many other names – including monkshood, wolfsbane, leopard’s bane, mousebane, women’s bane, devil’s helmet, queen of poisons and blue rocket.
This is widely planted, Miranda tells us – ‘”but can be deadly”.
The RHS website confirms that every part of this plant is toxic if eaten.
“Foxgloves are well-known to have an effect on the heart,” says Guy
“There’s a material in them called digitoxin, which is actually used in medicines for heart failure, but it can be poisonous if eaten,” says Guy.
“It’s very unwise to eat a foxglove and, bear in mind, the pollen also contains the poisonous material so it’s particularly important to wash anything growing near them, if you grow vegetables, for example, wash before you eat them.”
“If eaten it slows your heart rate down and makes your heart contract in uncoordinated ways and you would have a heart attack,” says Guy.“It is very rare, but it’s important to remember that the potential for harm is there.”
7. Euphorbias also know as spurges (including poinsettia)
“Euphorbias are a very common wild flower and garden plant, and poinsettias are a type of euphorbia that are very widely sold,” says Guy.
“Like all spurges, the sap can be irritant to skin, eyes and lips and needs to be avoided, but there is no risk from the foliage or being in the same room as the plant,” he explains.
“Although not terribly poisonous, it would be unwise to consume the foliage as it can be an extreme irritant,” he adds.
“Euphorbias and garden spurges can be very irritant if ingested, and the white sap can badly irritate the skin. In comparison, Poinsettias, compared with other euphorbias, are still an irritant but relatively mild.”
8. Caster oil plant (Ricinus Communis)
The seeds from the castor been plant are poisonous to people, animals and insects – and so this is one plant Gardeners’ World Magazine’s Miranda suggested we have on the list.
Castor beans contain ricin – one of the most toxic substances known.
There is no specific treatment except for support to reduce the load of the toxin – but it is far better not to eat this plant at all.
“The bulbs tend to be skin irritants,” says Guy. “They contain oxalic acid, which is also found in rhubarb, and would give you a stomach upset if you ate them.”
“The are potentially harmful,” says Guy. “The flowers and the foliage are not reported to be bad, but it wouldn’t do you much good if consumed.”
10. Morning Glory
“They contain alkaloids, which can have a toxic effect, and they can also be psychoactive so can cause hallucinations. As a result, you need to be careful of them,” says Guy.
“So be careful of the foliage and the seeds, but there’s nothing reported about skin contact.”
“Irises have the potential to cause harm,” says Guy. “Some of them have interesting seeds and seed pods that may attract the attention of children.”
“It may be wise to pull the seeds off if you have children around as they can be a skin irritant,” he says.
“It’s reported that if ingested, they can cause sickness, nausea and diarrohea, although I haven’t heard of an instance of this happening,” Guy explains.
“Ivy can cause skin irritation and any part of the plant is potentially harmful,” says Guy. “The seeds look very attractive at the time of year when there aren’t many berries about so they might catch the attention of children,” Guy explains.
“Children shouldn’t touch Ivy, it can cause skin irritation and I would strongly advise against eating the berries,” says Guy. “Eating the berries can cause a burning sensation in the throat and can cause nausea, and eating the foliage can cause a fever.”
13. Horse chestnut
“It’s the seeds that are attractive and kids might be tempted to eat them thinking they are sweet chestnuts,” says Guy.
“Children should be told to enjoy playing with conkers but not to chew on the seeds,” he adds.
“Poisonous when eaten, they can cause sickness, but there’s no harm in touching them so there’s no reason for children not to play conkers with them,” he explains.
“With a plant, unless you’re reasonably well-informed, you can’t be sure if they are safe, so we always say play safe and, if you’re not sure it’s edible, don’t eat it.”