IN THE GARDEN - DECEMBER 1995
by Terry Kramer
A year or so ago I read in the local poinsettias were not poisonous. It was a myth that they were toxic if eaten, the article said. Not true, according to a list of toxic plants published by the San Francisco Bay Area Regional Poison Control Center. You might not die from eating poinsettias, but there is a chance you will get a bellyache and diarrhea. Holly berries produce similar results. Consuming parts of mistletoe and colorful blooming azaleas can kill you.
Of course, adults wouldn't want to eat any of these holiday plants, but you don't want to see a toddler come waddling in munching on a bright red poinsettia bract or a handful of holly berries. Curious toddlers, who often explore with their mouths, are attracted to brightly colored holiday plants, says Susan Buckley, a public health nurse in the county's Child Health and Disability Prevention Department.
"If you have a child who is in the curious, exploring, touching stage, putting things in the mouth, you want to make sure any of these plants are out of their reach. Especially during the holidays when you are decorating with poinsettias and all that good stuff," she said.
Plants don't always come with labels warning of toxicity. Buckley says that although many parents are conscientious about putting away toxic chemicals and cleaning substances, plants also should be on the list. Relatives and friends who have young children visiting should pay attention, also.
"Grandparents, aunts and uncles, and anyone who doesn't normally have children in the home, if they do have toddlers visiting, should consider taking holiday plants out of reach," Buckley advises.
According to the San Francisco Bay Area Regional Poison Control Center, which also serves Humboldt and Del Norte counties, 60 percent of the 2.4 million poison exposure cases reported to poison control centers in 1992 involved children younger than 6. An estimated 8.5 percent of all poisonings involved the consumption of plants and mushrooms.
If you have a problem or question about toxic plants or any kind of substances, you can call them toll free at 800-523-2222, 24 hours a day.
So what do you do if a child has eaten a plant?
"It would depend on how ill the child looked," says Buckley. "If the child is fine and playing, and you just suspect that the child came in contact with a plant, call your pediatrician, family practitioner or nurse in the office. If you couldn't get hold of them, call the Poison Control Center directly.
"They deal with parents all of the time. They answer parents' questions and concerns, and they can advise what to do as far as going to an emergency room," Buckley says.
"If the child appears ill or unconscious, a parent would want to either call 911 or proceed directly to the emergency room, based on their location. If you do go to the emergency room, you should bring a part of what you thought the child ate," she advises.
It is not just holiday plants that can harm children if eaten. A significant number of indoor foliage and outdoor landscape plants also are toxic. Berried ornamental shrubs like pyracantha, cotton easter, barberry, coral berry and yew should be kept away from children. Ivy, rhododendrons, azaleas, boxwood, marguerite daisies, hydrangea, lantana and common privet are just a few of the many ornamentals that have toxic parts. Chrysanthemums can be deadly to a toddler.
Even some vegetable plants have toxic parts. The leaves of potato, tomato and rhubarb never should be eaten. Seed pits of almond, apple, apricot, cherry, peach, pear and plum will make one ill if consumed. Toxic house plants that should be kept out of a child's reach include aloe vera, philodendron, ficus, spathiphyllum, and dieffenbachia, to name a few.
Fortunately, the Poison Control Center offers a brochure listing many plants that are toxic and non-toxic.
Plants are grouped into three categories:
The good news is there are many non-toxic plants. If you have toddlers and want to have houseplants, try growing African violets, Japanese aralia, asparagus fern, Kalanchoe, Norfolk Island pine or maidenhair fern. Many indoor palms are non-toxic. Landscape plants such as agapanthus, babytears, camellias, geraniums, heavenly bamboo, impatiens, honeysuckle, Oregon grape, passion vine, pittosporum, rock roses, sedums, and toyon berry are non-toxic and can be planted in areas where children play.
The Poison Control Center's plant safety brochure is available from the CHDP and you can call 445-6210, or visit 712 4th St. in Eureka.
Here are a few tips offered by the Poison Control Center:
If you have young children in your life, get the brochure. If there is any doubt about a plant that has been consumed, call you physician, or the Poison Control Center, 800-523-2222.
Meanwhile, why not decorate with a Christmas cactus, miniature roses, pots of bright red gloxinias and Norfolk Island pines this holiday season? They are on the non-toxic list.
Terry Kramer is a Bayside free-lance writer and the owner of Jacoby Creek Nursery.
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