Monday, August 22, 2011

Know Your Plants~


Plants have been source of fascination since the beginning of time. They have provided a plethora of benefits to mankind and use of them has evolved over hundreds of years. However as all gardeners know, there is a dark side to the plant kingdom and many common plants are extremely toxic causing complaints which range from indigestion, to hallucinogenic visions, and possibly even death. The science of using dangerous plants reached a zenith during Medieval times when dispatching an enemy was as simple as brewing a tea! Today, for the well being of children and pets, it is wise to know which common plants impose significant dangers.

Almost all flowering bulbs are toxic in some manner so do not ingest any of them. Many plants contain dangerous compounds which are removed by cooking. Our own Poke Weed, found in early spring, is toxic unless the leaves are prepared in a specific manner. The roots, leaves, and flowers of Taro, a wild Elephant Ear, are staple foods in some tropical countries, but they too must all be cooked before eating. Some plants have parts of them which are edible while other parts are toxic. The Rhubarb, used in flavorful jellies and pies, has poisonous leaves but the stalks are not.

The following plants are listed as fatal, making them of particular import. Bunny Rabbit flowers aside, the lovely Larkspur is so toxic that it was used during the Revolutionary War as a pesticide. Soldiers stuffed their boots with it to repel mites and ticks. Oddly, the green berries of the lovely and prolific Lantana are fatal in small doses as are those of the Wisteria, Jasmine and Mistletoe. All parts of the Azalea and Rhododendron plants are deadly as well. The popular house plant Dieffenbachia is called dumb cane for it’s affect on the mouth and throat if ingested. The instant swelling not only renders the individual dumb, but may cause air-blocking swelling.

Many toxic plants incur cult followings among ill informed youth and the exotic Moonflower is no exception. Called forth by the light of the Moon, the large trumpet shaped creamy white flowers are highly scented and bloom all night. Unfortunately the Moonflower produces seeds that possess hallucinogenic powers… the plant made national news last fall when high school students chewed seeds in class!

Salvia Divinorum contains a property which is a potent naturally occurring hallucinogen when smoked. The leaves were used in traditional spiritual practices by the Mazatec people of Mexico however due to it’s ‘popularity’ among non-native followers, it has been banned in twelve states including Florida, Louisiana, Missouri, Tennessee, Delaware, North Dakota, Illinois, and Ohio as well as all of Australia.

There is a simple common sense rule to follow in dealing with the Plant Kingdom: Do not graze in the woods or garden chewing or smoking what abounds unless it is something that you know and recognize... and as Fall cleanup commences, monitor small children and pets.

Some Poisonous Plants Residing in My Garden~