RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—For most of us, a backyard garden serves as a sanctuary of beauty and peace. But did you know that, lurking among your beautiful beds, there may be plants whose toxic leaves and berries have been used throughout history to commit murders most foul? In her new book, Wicked Plants: The Weed That Killed Lincoln's Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities (Algonquin Books, 2009) author Amy Stewart tells the compelling tales of “botanical atrocities”—from the drugging of British soldiers with jimsonweed, to the killing of the Greek philosopher Socrates with poison hemlock. And it turns out many of the plants used in these crimes are still commonly cultivated today by many a backyard gardener.
Before you throw down your spade and run from the garden for good, it’s important to know that even the deadliest of plants is usually harmless unless ingested or otherwise mishandled. “I actually don’t think people should be frightened by these poisonous plants,” says Stewart. As she points out, there are plenty of toxic products in our bathrooms and under the kitchen sink, but we’re not afraid of them. The key is to avoid ingesting these substances and keep them out of reach of children and pets. The same precautions should be followed with poisonous plants. “We just have to remember that most of what comes out of the ground was not intended to be food for people.”
Here six of the most common poisonous plants:
|#1: Oleander. One of the most poisonous plants known, this evergreen shrub is commonly grown throughout warmer areas of the U.S. In California, it’s even grown along roadsides and used to decorate highway medians because it’s drought tolerant and deer won't eat it. The showy and often fragrant flowers make this a popular ornamental for backyard landscapes, but care must be used to keep children and animals from eating any part of the plant, as all are poisonous. Ingesting even a small amount of the leaves can be lethal, or cause severe gastrointestinal and cardiac reactions.|
Even oleander sap can cause skin irritations, numbness, and eye inflammation if it comes into contact with your hands or skin. If you have kids running around, it might be wise to remove this plant from your yard, as children can be attracted to its bright flowers. Just be sure to wear gloves when pulling it out.
Published on: June 29, 2009
Updated on: March 11, 2010