Monday, February 13, 2017

Revisiting Poisonous Plants

Castor Bean Plant in Bloom

As spring arrives and outside activities abound it is wise to revisit plant properties know of potential dangers lurking in the garden. 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 many 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.

Many plants contain dangerous compounds which are removed by preparation in a specific manner allowing them to thus be consumed. Our own Poke Weed is toxic unless the leaves are prepared and cooked 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. Almost all flowering bulbs are toxic in some manner so do not allow pets to ingest any of them.

The following plants are listed as fatal, making them of particular import. 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 its affect on the mouth and throat if ingested. The instant swelling not only renders the individual dumb, but may cause air-blocking swelling. Castor beans are the origin of the deadly ricin and the succulent, Mother of Thousands, is deadly as well.  

Many traditional plants have become illegal due to their naturally occurring hallucinogenic properties. The exotic Moon Flower is banned in many states and the lovely poppy was confiscated from an elderly lady’s garden in Washington since it is the origin of opium. Salvia Divinorum, an hallucinogen when smoked, was originally used in traditional spiritual practices by the Mazatec people of Mexico and now it too is banned from sale due to non-native use.

There is a simple common sense rule to follow in dealing with the Plant Kingdom: Do not graze in the woods or garden, eating or smoking what abounds unless it is something that you know and recognize as healthful… it could make you ill or even prove fatal.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Valentine Gifts for Gardeners

Bulb Planter that attaches to a cordless drill!
In conversation with a fellow writer last week she astounded me by mentioning she never includes the weather in her gardening columns. She is a city girl so I am assuming the weather does not have drastic significance to her. In our community the forecast is all important and a necessity to note. From high winds and burn bans to dry conditions in the garden, predictions are very much a part of rural everyday lives. Without them how would we know if we need a sweater, an overcoat or an umbrella? A nice temperature or wind gauge would be a much appreciated Valentine’s gift… checking it would stave off the boredom of February.   

February gives the gardener time to evaluate the condition of your tools. If you send your lawn mower, hedge clippers, and rototiller to the shop now, before the spring rush, they will be repaired, revamped, and ready for use without delay.

 There are several handy items one might consider as a welcome gift for your gardening Valentine. At long last technology has met practicality and created new ergonomically correct hand tools for the gardener. Ergonomically correct tools reduce stress on the joints making them a marvelous gift for any hard working gardener.

 The fabulous Felco #2 Pruners are standard issue among commercial growers and make general pruning a breeze. Felco’s #7 models with a swivel handle that allows the gripping action to have a more natural motion is an ideal gift for the gardener with a bit of arthritis. Although they are a bit pricey, they are well worth the expense for their sheer functionality. From the company Bahco, who were the inventers of the pipe wrench, comes the P2S Pruner with the promise of professional grade pruning.

And last fall we purchased a bulb planter that fits on a drill. It is indeed a miracle for under $25, digging a bulb sized hole in seconds… it proved to be fine investment as we planted 75 bulbs in thirty minutes.  

This year plan to forgo the typical transient Valentine’s Day gifts such as cut flowers and candy and give your gardener a practical gift that will express your undying love and devotion… a good tool will do exactly that!