The number of poisonous plants commonly found growing wild along the road or planted in people's yards is breathtaking. If you have children (or pets such as dogs), access to these plants puts them at risk. Young children are constantly tempted to put objects in their mouths; colorful berries are particularly enticing. Even older kids, driven by curiosity or urged in a dare, have been known to eat plants that turn out to be toxic.
So many plants are at least mildly toxic, meaning that they may at most give you a tummy ache if you eat too much of them, that it would be impractical to list them all. But for the sake of yard safety, it's a good idea to learn about some of the most poisonous plants you're likely to encounter. These are the plants that are toxic enough to be lethal or to cause serious health problems if eaten in sufficient amounts.
Those bearing colorful berries that are easily accessible pose the greatest danger to curious children. In contrast, it is the underground bulb of the daffodil plant that is poisonous (and young children are unlikely to dig it up and eat it).
Avoid buying these at the garden center or remove them if they're already growing in your yard (especially the weedy ones).
01 of 11
Because pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) was featured in Tony Joe White's popular 1968 song, "Polk Salad Annie," some people have become aware that pokeweed (or simply "poke") has traditionally been eaten in parts of the southern United States. Despite the song title, the more proper way to spell the dish in question is "poke sallet." That's because it's not a salad but rather greens harvested from a young pokeweed plant and cooked as you would spinach.
However, fewer people realize that all parts of this potentially lethal plant are considered poisonous. Those in the South who have traditionally made poke sallet know exactly how to cook it to remove the toxins. If you don't possess such knowledge, you shouldn't be eating any "poke salad." And young children playing in the yard should definitely not be allowed to nibble at pokeweed.
The reason pokeweed plants so often crop up in people's yards is that wild birds eat the berries, then they deposit the seeds, which can sprout up at the edge of a garden or in some neglected area of the landscape.
If you're trying to get rid of pokeweed, be aware that it has a deep, long taproot. You must dig out this taproot entirely to eradicate the plant. Lest new plants should spring up from seed, remove and dispose of any berries produced.
02 of 11
Like pokeweed, Actaea pachypoda, variously called "white baneberry" or "doll's eyes," has reddish-pink stems. All parts of the North American plant are toxic if you eat them in sufficient quantity.
The berries' appearance is responsible for the common name. But toxic berries are not playthings. And even contact with the leaves can cause a skin rash.
Fortunately, doll's eyes are less likely to show up in your yard or along the road than pokeweed; it's a woodland plant. Two other woodland plants native to North America that are also poisonous are white snakeroot (Eupatorium rugosum) and water hemlock (Cicuta maculata).
03 of 11
Bittersweet nightshade belongs to the nightshade family, which is known for being poisonous.
Many yards across North America have some bittersweet nightshade weeds growing in them, typically along a fence. The wild birds eat the berries and distribute the seeds around in their poop.
Children are tempted to eat bittersweet nightshade berries (Solanum dulcamara) because they're so pretty, displaying a bunch of different colors all at once. The berries change color as they mature. Green at the start, then yellow, orange, and finally, red.
Attracted as kids are to the berries of these poisonous plants, it's only a matter of time until they eat a few just to try them. If the amount eaten is small enough, the experience may be relatively harmless. But there's no reason for parents to risk it.
04 of 11
Among shrubs, few have been used more widely in the U.K. and in North America than yew bushes (Taxus). They've been classic landscape plants for some time now, prized for the fact that they aren't fussy about where you plant them and they are tolerant of a variety of soils and sunlight conditions.
All parts of the plants are toxic, except for the flesh of the berry. This exception affords little comfort since the seeds within the berry are poisonous. So, kids can get sick if they eat the berries. Don't grow this poisonous plant around small children if you wish to stay on the safe side.Continue to 5 of 11 below.
05 of 11
Castor bean plants (Ricinus communis) have long been grown for medicinal purposes. For example, castor oil, extracted from the "beans" (more accurately, the seeds produced in the pods), have been used for years as a laxative, in addition to other home uses.
A toxin in the plant, ricin, is derived from the seeds of castor beans, making them potentially lethal. So just because they have medicinal uses, that doesn't mean you can be complacent about them.
Castor bean plants' large leaves lend the yard a tropical feel, and their red-colored seed pods offer visual interest. Some have dark leaves that lovers of black plants will find appealing. Despite the beauty, growing this plant in a yard where children will be playing isn't worth the risk.
06 of 11
While the beautiful angel's trumpet (Brugmansia) has a heavenly fragrance, all parts of this hallucinogenic plant from the tropics can be quite poisonous if eaten in large quantities (even smaller quantities eaten by children can make them sick).
Unfortunately, the toxicity warning goes beyond just making sure no one ingests the plant. Snapping off a leaf or branch from an angel's trumpet plant can cause sap to ooze out. Some people develop health issues when this sap merely makes contact with their skin, and more severe reactions if the sap gets into their eyes. When pruning Brugmansia, wear gloves, long sleeves, and goggles.
07 of 11
All parts of oleander plants (Nerium oleander) can cause death if eaten in sufficient amounts. As if that weren't bad enough, mere contact with the plant's foliage can cause a rash.
Whereas castor beans and angel's trumpets are jungle plants in the wild, oleander is more often a desert plant.
08 of 11
Aconitum goes by either "monkshood" or "wolfsbane" in common lingo. The latter is better in the context of education on poisonous plants you shouldn't grow around children. The "bane" (meaning "a deadly poison") tells you all you need to know: If it can kill a wolf, it can kill you.
Wolfsbane is one of the most poisonous plants. All parts of the plant are toxic, with the roots thought to be especially deadly. The culprits are the alkaloids, aconitine, and aconite (names derived from the genus name, Aconitum). Even if you keep your children from putting wolfsbane in their mouths, you're still not out of the woods. Poisoning can occur through the skin (especially if there's a cut).
The plant is related to the perennial, delphinium, which is also poisonous.Continue to 9 of 11 below.
09 of 11
Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) is a classic cottage garden plant. Gardeners have loved the beauty of this stately plant for ages even though ingesting it can be fatal.
This is another case where a plant can be medicinal and toxic simultaneously. All of its parts are poisonous. There are cases of children getting sick from sucking the flowers, eating the seeds, or nibbling at the leaves. But digitalis derived from the plant is also used to treat heart conditions.
10 of 11
Rhododendron bushes (Azalea spp.) are common in North American landscaping. But all parts of this shrub are toxic, thanks to the presence of Andromedotoxin. The name of that toxin serves as a reminder that rhododendron belongs to a family of plants (namely, Ericaceae) several of which are poisonous, examples of which include Andromeda (Pieris) shrubs. Mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) is another toxic member of this family. So-called "azalea bushes" are really just a sub-set of the Rhododendron genus, so you have to be careful growing them around children as well.
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The lovely pods of Chinese lantern plants (Physalis alkekengi) are another source of temptation for curious children who may wish to sample them. The fruit inside the pod, when unripe, is toxic.
But lovers of crafts, in particular, are tempted to grow them because the pods look great in fall wreaths. Another drawback, though, is that it's tough to get rid of Chinese lantern plants, which are invasive.
Pokeweed. University of Maryland Extension Website
Actaea Pachypoda. North Carolina State University Extension
Guide to Poisonous Plants - Nightshade. Colorado State University
Toxic Plant Profile: Yew. University of Maryland Extension
Facts About Ricin. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Guide to Poisonous Plants - Angel's Trumpet. Colorado State University
Guide to Poisonous Plants - Oleander, Rose Laurel. Colorado State University
Aconitum napellus (Monkshood): A Purple Poison. National Capital Poison Center
Guide To Poisonous Plants - Foxglove. Colorado State University
Jansen, Suze A et al. Grayanotoxin poisoning: 'mad honey disease' and beyond. Cardiovascular toxicology vol. 12,3 (2012): 208-15. doi:10.1007/s12012-012-9162-2
Guide to Poisonous Plants - Ground cherry, Chinese lantern. Colorado State University