Some of the prettiest plants can be dangerous if their flowers or leaves are eaten or they come into contact with the skin or eyes. Acute inflammation of the skin is caused by contact with such poisonous plants. The inflamed, swollen, and intensely itching skin areas, thickly covered with tiny blisters in the early stages, are familiar to most people. There are usually linear blisters associated with scratch marks.
The list of toxic plants found in the garden or the countryside is long. Ten of these – though considered to be among the prettiest – are deemed to be the most poisonous and can cause serious illness or even death. They are enumerated below in alphabetical order:
1. Angel’s Trumpet. The pendant white to pale apricot flowers of the angel’s trumpet are sweet smelling, especially at night, but are as poisonous as all the other parts of this plant if eaten. Symptoms are thirst, hallucinations, convulsions, violent behavior, and coma, sometimes resulting in death.
2. Arum Lily. Arum lilies grow in moist, well-drained soil and bear flowers in spring to early summer. The distinctive gold flower spike and white sheath contain needle-sharp crystals of calcium oxalate, which can pierce the tongue and throat and introduce an enzyme that causes swelling followed by serious stomach inflammation.
3. Christmas Rose. The Christmas rose, or hellebore, displays its white or maroon flowers in mid-winter when few other plants are in bloom. Swallowing any part of the plant can cause severe gastroenteritis.
4. Daphne. Daphne, which originated in China, thrives in frost-free temperate areas and is grown for its beautifully perfumed pink flower clusters. Eating daphne berries causes swelling of the lips and tongue, followed by vomiting and collapse.
5. Foxglove. Despite the medicinal properties of the foxglove – it is the source of the cardiac stimulant digitalis – all parts of the plant are poisonous. It can cause irregularities in the heart rate, as well as stomach pain and diarrhea.
6. Glory Lily. This tropical climbing plant, grown from tubers for its showy appearance, is also cultivated indoors in pots in non-tropical regions. Eating any part of the plant may cause neurological disorders and severe gastric attacks.
7. Laburnum. Laburnums are cool-climate plants which bear numerous, bright yellow, drooping flowers followed by brown seedpods. All parts of the plant are toxic and gardeners should wear gloves when pruning or collecting clippings.
8. Lantana. Lantana should always be approached with caution. The leaves can cause dermatitis while the fruits are especially toxic when unripe, and if swallowed may cause delayed symptoms of gastroenteritis and serious respiratory difficulties.
9. Oleander. The oleander is often found in streets and public parks; all species are equally poisonous. The danger is not confined to eating the plant; when used as fuel, oleander produces highly toxic fumes and rotting foliage can contaminate water.
10. Sweet Pea. This favorite garden plant blooms from late winter to early summer. A vigorous annual climber, it produces fragrant flowers followed by seeds, which, if eaten, may cause paralysis, a weak pulse, breathing difficulties, and convulsions.
Small children are especially at risk because of their light bodyweight. Discourage them from touching plants or using them in their play.