Published on 05/26/97

Poison Ivy Not the Only Poison in Your Garden

When we think of poison plants in the landscape, poison ivy and poison oak are first on the list. But it's a long list that includes favorite flowers and even tomato vines.

"Tomato leaves and stems may cause upset stomach," said Wayne McLaurin, a horticulturist with the University of Georgia Extension Service.

So can other vegetable plant parts, such as pepper stems and the potato seed pods that form on the top of the potato plant after blooming.

"You see very few potato seed pods in Georgia," McLaurin said. "They look like small tomatoes, but they're not for eating." The pods contain alkaloids that can make you sick.

According to the Georgia Poison Center, indoor and outdoor plants are among the most common causes of poisonings in children. Plants can cause severe injury and even death if swallowed by humans or animals.

Common landscape plants that can harm children and pets include azaleas, boxwoods, English ivy, foxglove, hyacinths and wisteria.

"Most poisoning from plants comes from rubbing up against the plant, not from actually eating it," McLaurin said.

It's fun to include children in gardening, so don't let the risk persuade you to keep them out. Just take precautions.

"Kids will trample plants, pick unripe fruit and become a problem in general unless you teach them the proper way to conduct themselves in the garden," McLaurin said. "Teach them the right way first. And try to make gardening a pleasant experience, as well as a learning experience."

McLaurin feels a home garden is the perfect place to teach children where their food really comes from.

Pets, on the other hand, have no place in the garden.

"Pets should be kept out of the garden for obvious reasons," McLaurin said. "They dig and make nuisances of themselves."

An even greater danger is what they can leave behind.

"Their fecal matter may contain organisms, such as roundworms, that might infect humans," he said. "These organisms can get on the leaves or fruit of plants. And if the fruits aren't washed thoroughly, the organisms may be eaten and cause health problems."

For the same reason, never use dog or cat fecal matter in a compost pile.

Remember, too, to keep chemicals away from children in the garden. And keep children and pets out of the garden if you recently sprayed fertilizer, herbicides or pesticides.

Symptoms of plant poisoning in children may include skin irritation, vomiting, diarrhea and, in severe cases, delirium and death.

The Georgia Poison Center recommends you:

* Know the names of all plants in and around your home. Learn to recognize them by sight and name.

* Label each plant and keep a list of your plants on hand so babysitters can have access to the list in an emergency.

* Don't eat wild plants or mushrooms. Teach your children never to put leaves, stems, flowers, nuts, berries or seeds from any plant into their mouths.

* Remove mushrooms from your yard and securely dispose of them.

* Become familiar with first aid for plant poisoning. Remove any part of the plant that hasn't been swallowed, and call the Poison Center immediately.

* Keep a bottle of syrup of ipecac on hand to induce vomiting if necessary. Use syrup of ipecac only on the advice of the Poison Center or your doctor.

To learn more about backyard garden safety, contact your county office of the UGA Extension Service. Or call the Georgia Poison Center at 1-800- 282-5846 and request "The Safe and Sorry of Common Plants."

Faith Peppers is the director of public affairs with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.