Saturday, October 31, 2015

Gardeners Beware! Poisonous Plants & Berries

"Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and caldron bubble.
Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the caldron boil and bake"
                                              William Shakespeare from Macbeth

In the spirit of Halloween, I thought I would do a post on poisonous plants and berries. 

Foxgloves and Monkshood are very often singled out as poisonous garden plants. In fact, one of the first things you are likely to read about Monkshood, Aconitum is that it is poisonous. Certainly, Monkshood should be handled with caution, but it is also a really nice flower to grow in moist, part shade. 

Foxgloves, Digitalis contain cardia glycoside toxins which can affect the heart muscle in both humans and pets. It is also the source of a heart medication that has saved many lives. 

Foxglove, Digitalis (left) and Bi-color Monkshood, Aconitum (right)

Foxgloves and Monkshood may be among the best known poisonous plants, but there is actually a long list of plants that are poisonous to both humans and pets. 

When dealing with poisonous garden plants some good common sense goes a long way:

• Avoid eating, drinking or smoking when around plants that are known to be poisonous. 

• Dispose of toxic plant material carefully making sure they are out of reach of children and pets. 

• Wash your hands after handling poisonous plants, or even better, wear garden gloves. 

• Do not assume a plant is non-toxic because birds or wild animals eat them.

• If you think that a child has eaten a doubtful plant, seek medical advice immediately. Take a sample of the plant with you to the emergency department to aid the plant's identification.

• If you think your pet has ingested a poisonous plant, call your vet right away. Again, take a sample of the plant with you to the vet's office to aid with identification.

In the late summer and fall, the garden often is filled with shiny, ripe berries that might appear tempting to a young child. 

• You may want to consider avoiding plants with toxic berries until your toddler is old enough to understand they are not to be eaten.

• It's a good idea to teach young children never to put mushrooms, berries or any part of a plant in their mouth.

• It's always wise to supervise a young child in the garden.

Starting from the left: Yew berries, Pokeweed berries, Cotoneaster berries, Blue Colash berries

Here are just a few common berries that are poisonous:

Yew, Pokeweed, Bittersweet, Belladonna, Ivy, Mistletoe, Poison Ivy, Holly berries, Jerusalem Cherry, Doll's Eyes and Cotoneaster berries.

I consider myself lucky. My dogs don't like to dig and aren't interested in eating bulbs or plants. The only thing they have ever eaten is the odd cherry tomato. 

Here are some common plants poisonous to pets:

Autumn Crocus: Fall blooming crocus contain colchicine which is toxic to pets and may result in respiratory failure, liver and kidney damage, vomiting and gastrointestinal bleeding. (Spring crocus may cause vomiting and diarrhoea, but aren't as harmful).

Azalea: Ingestion of an azalea's leaves may cause vomiting, diarrhoea and drooling. Without quick veterinary attention, a pet may fall into a coma and possibly die.

Cyclamen: Ingestion of the roots of cyclamen may cause vomiting and even death.

Lilies: Tiger, Daylilies, Asiatic and Easter lilies are particularly toxic for cats. Even the ingestion of a few petals or leaves can cause kidney failure and death.

Daffodils: Ingestion of the bulb, plant or flower can cause vomiting, diarrhoea, slowed breathing and even cardiac arrhythmia.

Lily of the Valley: Like foxgloves, Lily of the Valley contains cardiac glycosides. When ingested Lily of the Valley can cause vomiting, a drop in heart rate or cardiac arrhythmia and seizures.

Tulips & Hyacinths: When any parts of these plants are ingested they can cause drooling, vomiting and diarrhoea.

This is a just a short list. If you have a pet that likes to snack in the garden, do your research before you bring a plant home for your garden. 

Sadly, there is quite a long list of plants you may have to avoid.

White Amaryllis

Houseplants can also be a concern for pets. Here is a list of just a few of the common houseplants that are poisonous for pets:

Amaryllis, Asparagus Fern, Azaleas, Chrysanthemum, Poinsettia, Pot Mum and Spider Mum

Bottom Line: If you think your pet has eaten something and is showing any signs of poisoning, consult a veterinary immediately.

Ways to deter pets from nibbling on houseplants:

• Put the houseplant up out of reach on a shelf or plant stand. You can also put houseplants in a hanger.

• Spray houseplants with diluted lemon juice (one part juice to two parts water) or bitter apple.

• Put plants in a glass terrarium.

• Offer an alternative. Buy kitty grass for your cat.

• Boredom is one of the major causes of bad behaviour. Offer some chew toys and other safe forms of entertainment.

A few ways to deter pets from eating garden plants:

• Build raised flower and vegetable beds.

• If you have a large yard, consider creating a fenced pet-friendly area and restrict them to it.

• Alternately, enclose your garden with a fence that will keep pets at a safe distance. A friend of mine has a lovely formal garden that is fenced and gated in her large open backyard.

• Consider netting or chicken wire to keep your pet away from problem plants.

• Train your dog. Praise him or her when he or she responds to firm correction.

Have a spooktacular Halloween!

More Information and Links:

Government of Canada List of Poisonous Plants
Canadian Child Care Federation list of toxic plants.

Article: "Will a Poisonous Plant Really kill your Pet" by Meredith Swinehart for Gardenista.


  1. Oh my - this is very helpful and I knew about some but not others. Thanks for the information.

  2. I have lilies...and they are growing right in Boo's favorite hiding spot...I never thought about it. I'm going to be moving those to a new location as soon as spring comes back. Thanks for the reminder!


    1. Yes, lilies and cats don't make good companions. I am sure Boo is well loved and that you want to keep her safe.

  3. Good info. I do have a holly tree with tons of berries on it, dogs haven't eaten any that I know of. Oh but Henry has been chewing on a acorn or two...I take them away from him when I see it. My garden half of the yard is the dogs also. All is fenced in but it's also fenced in half, the other half is for husbands tomatoes, cucumbers...all started from seed.

  4. It is amazing how many plants can be a problem for pets. I have been lucky that my two dogs have not been drawn to eating my plants.

  5. The garden certainly can be hazardous for people and animals. My dogs love to snack on strawberries and for a while were going after all red berries, it really was worrying! An informative and fascinating post!xxx

  6. So many plants are "wicked plants!" People focus on monkshood, but clematis is in the same buttercup family, and can be harmful to pets or cause skin irritation in susceptible people, but no one thinks twice about them. Hellebores are another trendy but potentially harmful plant. Your common-sense advice is excellent.

    1. I agree that people do focus too much on Monkshood being poisonous when there are so many other plants in a garden that have the same potential for harm.

  7. Thank you, Jennifer, so many poisoner plants around us. I thought that phytolacca is poisoner too. Some times I felt my hands itchy after working with digitalis.
    Have a nice week!

  8. Jennifer girl I missed this post (my Halloween was super quiet ,, too quiet .. no good classic black and white horror films the old way .. I miss that) in any case this was a great post and I loved your pictures !
    I just came in from raking leaves .. planting a few more ornamental grasses and planting more bulbs ... I have one more order coming from Veseys ... I bought most on sale between Botanus and Vesey's .. more than I ever had before but I am exhausted ! .. I only hope they all survive and smile come Spring.
    Funny enough I can't keep a house plant alive ... yet I can garden like a maniac .. now how weird is that?
    Take care girl : )

    1. I am not good with houseplants either Joy. I think it's just that I don't find them as interesting as garden plants.

  9. A good reminder for us all. Many years ago we had to admit into our hospital almost an entire Grade one class. They had eaten berries on a school nature walk. The kids we all fine the next day. I have no idea what happened to the teacher. Not her best day for sure.

    1. How terrible for the kids and their teacher! Yes, not the teacher's best day!

  10. I've not had problems with any of my cats... they chew a little grass now and then but I've never seen them go for any other plant. But I actually knew a person, an adult, who died from ingesting yew berries.

    1. Gosh, how horrible! Yew berries are tomato like, but the unusual texture is off-putting. I am surprised that an adult ate them.


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