Some of those nasty ones have beautiful flowers, some smell especially good, others have gorgeous leaves, but all of them can be dangerous to the innocent!!! One author I read states that every year nearly 69,000 are poisoned by plants.

          Among the beautiful flowers in a number of yards and greenhouses in Lincoln are the Angel Trumpets (Brugsmania sp). The trumpets may be 15 to 18 inches long in yellow, pink, white, or orange. Their purple or white cousins are called Jimsen Weed or Datura and are just as deadly.  All of these can grow to 8 to 10 feet high and produce many, many seeds in pods.  I was given my first one called a “Moonflower” as it doesn’t open until night.  They are not too uncommon in farmer’s fields.  The seeds contain alkaloids in high concentrations with weaker ones in leaves and stems. The plants are available in garden centers and plant catalogs but only a few seeds can kill a child.  The seed pods look like small eggs with thorns, making it interesting to investigate. If you read mystery stories you probably have read plots in which the plants were used as weapons.

          Another one found in yards as an 8 to 10 foot gorgeous background is the Castor Bean (Ricinus communis).  There are both red and green leafed plants and again the flower pods are a bright red, spiny, and filled with speckled seeds.  You may have grown up being given a dose of castor oil for constipation but ricin (the poison) has been removed. Castor oil is also used in cosmetics so it is not all bad.  In the last few years the seeds and pods have been ground up to put in mole holes in the lawn. I have not seen any research on how well it works in chasing them out.  Only the seeds are poisonous so if you have kids, remove the pods as soon as they form and you can keep the big plant.

          Most people are aware that they should not eat the leaves of Rhubarb (Rheum sp) while the stems are used for a number of delicious dishes.  The reason is the oxalic acid found in the leaves that can cause breathing as well as gastrointestinal problems.

          Among your house plants you may have a Sago Palm (Cycas sp). It is listed by the ASPCA as the most poisonous house plant for pets. Some dogs or cats like to gnaw on plants.  I have just read that the Pencil Plant I have has a sap that some are very allergic to and recommends gloves if pruning the plant.  The Christmas Cherry aka (also known as) Jerusalem Cherry, can cause nausea, vomiting, and heart problems. Philodendrons or Diffenbachia (aka Dumb Cane) can cause different degrees of reaction to people or animals.  Do you have a pet?

          Every summer we hear about various water areas being posted as dangerous due to Blue Green Algae.  These produce toxins that can cause liver failure and other allergy reactions. Some think the “bloom” is brought by warm days after heavy fertilizer run off.  Boating seems to be okay but don’t fall in!!!

          Many of us have Yew (Taxus sp) hedges or trees, especially for shady areas, but watch out as any part of the plant can kill if enough is eaten. It causes heart failure. Remember a few years ago there was a mystery death on a bridge until the autopsy discovered a stomach full of Yew berries.  But Yews are also used to make some of our anti-cancer drugs such as Taxol.

          Poke Weed (Phytolacca sp.) is a rather handsome weed that shows up suddenly in the yard. It grows fast, up to 10 feet tall, and produces a handsome set of maroon berries. These berries can be deadly but birds can eat them with no ill effect.  The people who make their own dyes try to collect the plants for the red dye. The root is also poisonous and hogs have been killed in Nebraska by digging up the roots and eating them.  Leaves have been eaten but only after special instructions about boiling and discarding the water several times. 

          For more information about poisonous and/or toxic plants contact your local County Extension Office or check out the following websites:

·  (Plants and Household Products Poisonous to Pets from UNL Extension in Lancaster County ) A list of plants and household products that are poisonous to pets

· or  (Toxicity of Common Houseplants from UNL Extension in Lancaster County ) A list of the toxicity, if any, of common houseplants including some common ornamentals grown around the home.  Following this list is a description of the toxic compounds found in some plants.

· (Potentially Poisonous Plants by Dr. Cindy Haynes , Department of Horticulture at Iowa State University ) A list of common plants that should be appreciated for their beauty, but should not be ingested.

· (List of 442 plants that have been reported as having systemic effect and/or intense effects on the gastrointestinal tract of dogs, cats, or horses and 546 plants that are not toxic, from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Plants can be searched by common or scientific name.)

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