Pretty Poisons

It’s that time of year again – Indiana is enjoying warmer temperatures, longer days and lots of greenery. Everyone will be spending more time outdoors now and young children will find many interesting things to explore, including plants.

We all enjoy the beauty plants bring to our homes and yards. At the same time, it’s important to realize that young children tend to think of poison as something which looks, tastes and smells bad. Children, especially under the age of six, may not see the “pretty poisons” as a danger. They are likely to drawn by the attractive flowers and berries and fragrances that are produced by plants.

In reality, plants, including both house and garden varieties, are among the top ten agents that cause poisoning in young children. In the midwest alone, there are hundreds of poisonous plants capable of causing illness or injury in dozens of ways. The potential symptoms of toxicity depend on the specific plant involved. Most exposures occur in the spring and summer months and they make up nearly ten percent of all poison exposures in young children reported by poison centers each year.

Here are some tips to help you safely enjoy your plants

  • Identify all plants in your home and yard. If you’re not sure what a certain plant is, take a sample to a nursery or greenhouse, as it is nearly impossible to identify a plant over the phone. House, garden and wild plants, "weeds", trees and shrubs should all be identified.
  • Label all plants with their proper name (preferably the common name and the botanical name). Write it on tape with permanent ink and place it on the bottom or outside of the planter. Make a rough sketch of your yard and garden, including location and name of trees, bushes and plants. Keep this “map” posted in a convenient place in your home, so that anyone caring for your child will be able to use it to identify plants, if necessary.
  • Find out if your plants are toxic by clicking here to use the Poison Center's Plant Guide, or by calling the Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222. Remove plants that are considered dangerous.
  • Keep children away from plants with berries. The color, shape and texture of berries makes them very attractive to young children. Berries are found on garden and wild plants, but they may also be part of dried flower arrangements.
  • Remove all mushrooms in the yard, especially after rainy spells in spring and fall. Most reported deaths from plants result from eating wild mushrooms. Identification of mushrooms growing in the yard is very time consuming, even to experts.  To be on the safe side, it’s best to assume all varieties are toxic. It’s important to call the Poison Center if any portion of a wild mushroom is eaten.

Plant material may be digested slowly and symptoms of poisoning can be delayed. If you suspect someone has been poisoned, don’t wait for problems to develop, instead, call the Poison Center immediately at 1-800-222-1222. Experts are standing by 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

Next entry: Mushrooms

Previous entry: Hand Gels