Perilous garden Many a favorite garden plant is lovely to look at but deadly to eat.

June 14, 1998|By Ary Bruno | Ary Bruno,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

There are plants in my garden I have come to think of as the Lucrezia Borgias of the flower world.

Beautiful. Alluring. Sweet scents beckoning. These are favorite plants whose flowers I yearly look forward to. Alas, I must regard them with care. They are poisonous.

Does this surprise you? What kind of person would grow poisonous plants? The answer may surprise you.

Most gardens are planned and thought of as places of graciousness and refuge, visual feasts and enticing scents, not to mention delicious flavors. Therefore, it comes as something of a shock to many gardeners and homeowners to know that there can be danger in these gardens as well - poisonous plants - and that most nurseries and catalogs do not do a good job of warning buyers about them. Even more unsettling, many of these toxic plants are long-time garden favorites.

Thankfully, it is not necessary to ban them outright from your yard. The key is just to know what you are dealing with. Simply think of these plants like any other hazardous material in your household. Take proper precautions, and keep a few things in mind:

* Toxicity can range from merely uncomfortable symptoms to quick death. The dose needed to do harm may vary with the size and age of the person or animal exposed.

* Try to know the recommended antidote or treatment for the plants you have on your property.

* Whenever possible, keep them out of the reach of small children and pets who are in the chew-and-sample stage. If you have neighbors whose toddlers and pets have access to your yard, by all means warn them.

* Keep the poison control hot line next to the telephone (for the Baltimore area: 410-528-7701).

So what are these toxic beauties? Some of the most popular, which you may want to check your property for, are included here. This list is not a complete one, but only an attempt to cover a few of the most common plants.

Azalea (Rhododendron spp.). This evergreen shrub is one of the most popular landscape plants in the Baltimore area. Varieties of it may be found in bloom from early through late spring in a rainbow of color choices. All parts of the plant are toxic to humans and animals. Symptoms include numbing of the mouth and throat, nausea, vomiting, hypertension and seizures, and it can lead to coma if enough is ingested.

Wisteria (Wisteria spp.). A popular and graceful perennial vine, this member of the legume family has blue, purple or white blooms borne in long racemes in early spring. All parts of the plant are highly poisonous, and as few as one or two seeds can make a child seriously ill. Symptoms include abdominal pain, nausea, dehydration, vomiting and collapse.

Foxglove (Digitalis, spp.). This old-fashioned perennial or biennial can often be found naturalized in woodlands and "grandmother's" gardens. The bell-shaped, pink, white, rose or peach-colored flowers with their characteristic mottling or "foxing" inside, are carried on 2- to 5-foot-tall upright stalks. Although digitalis is used in the production of some heart medicines, the entire plant is highly toxic and frequently fatal to humans and animals if eaten.

Sweet pea (Lathyrus spp.). This is another member of the legume family, with sweet-scented blossoms that look identical to - but are not the same as - our common garden peas (genus Pisum). It is often found in cutting, cottage and fragrance gardens. All parts of the plant are poisonous, with the seeds being the most potent. Onset of symptoms is slow but potentially fatal: aneurysm, scoliosis and frail bones.

Lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis). This beloved, traditional perennial thrives in the shade and bears its dainty white flowers in the spring, which may be followed by orange berries in the late summer. All parts of the plant can be life-threatening to humans and animals if eaten, but dogs and cats are usually most at risk. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and dilated pupils.

Other Common Poisonous Garden Plants:

Angels trumpet (Datura, spp.)

Bleeding heart (Dicentra, spp.)

Christmas rose (Helleborus, spp.)

Clematis (Clematis, spp.)

Columbine (Aquilegia, spp.)

Daffodil (Narcissus, spp.)

Delphinium (Delphinium, spp.)

Glory lily (Gloriosa superba)

Hyacinth (Hyacinthus, spp.)

Holly (Ilex, spp.)

Hydrangea (Hydrangea, spp.)

Ivy (Hedera helix )

Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum)

Lantana (Lantana camara)

Lily (Lilium, spp.)

Lobelia (Lobelia, spp.)

Milkweed (Asclepias, spp.)

Monkshood (Aconitum, spp.)

Morning glory (Ipomoea, spp.)

Nicotiana (Nicotiana, spp.)

Poppy (Papaver, spp.)

Ranunculus (Ranunculus, spp.)

Toadflax (Linaria, spp.)

Winter cherry (Solanum, spp.)

Pub Date: 6/14/98

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