Gor­geous but deadly

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - HOME - Peter Cundall

IT is a sad fact of life that some of the most toxic garden plants are also among the most at­trac­tive. Wan­der through any well­stocked garden at al­most any time of the year and you’ll be sur­rounded by plants with poi­sonous leaves, fruit, sap, bark and roots.

Th­ese poi­sons are the means by which th­ese plants pro­tect them­selves from brows­ing an­i­mals.

Luck­ily most an­i­mals seem to know which plants to avoid, ei­ther be­cause of a bit­ter taste or un­pleas­ant smell.

The Por­tu­gal Lau­rel ( Prunus lusi­tan­ica) is a pop­u­lar and at­trac­tive small, ev­er­green tree.

In spring the branches are heavy with lovely, creamy- white flow­ers, fol­lowed by clus­ters of small, plum- like black berries.

It is th­ese that can be con­sumed by cu­ri­ous chil­dren and can cause a se­ri­ous ill­ness.

Even the com­mon Cherry Lau­rel ( P. lau­ro­cera­sus), which pro­duces berries that are still used in parts of Tas­ma­nia to make cherry lau­rel jam can be a prob­lem.

The main tox­ins are in the youngest leaves and within the hard ker­nels of the fruit.

The most dan­ger­ous of all garden plants is the com­mon oleander ( Nerium oleander) ev­ery part of this plant is ex­tremely poi­sonous.

When prun­ing or re­mov­ing an oleander, be sure to wear full pro­tec­tion, in­clud­ing a face mask and eye pro­tec­tors. Drift­ing par­ti­cles can cause blind­ness and the wood dust, if in­haled can have a deadly ef­fect.

Even burn­ing oleander wood is a haz­ard be­cause the smoke is toxic.

The most sin­is­ter plant I’ve ever ex­pe­ri­enced and has be­come a weed on Schouten Is­land is Ap­ple of Sodom ( Solanum bermanii). It has maple- like, hairy leaves armed with fierce, hooked spines. How­ever, it is the round, green- yel­low fruit that are par­tic­u­larly deadly.

Helle­bores are among the most pop­u­lar win­ter- flow­er­ing plants and all species pos­sess some tox­i­c­ity. How­ever, the Black Helle­bore ( H. niger) has strongly poi­sonous sap which can cause con­sid­er­able skin dam­age, es­pe­cially when older plants are be­ing cut apart to cre­ate new di­vi­sions. It is es­sen­tial to wear water- proof gloves when do­ing this job with any helle­bores.

The beau­ti­ful labur­num or Golden Chain tree can be an­other toxic hor­ror, mainly be­cause the wood, bark, leaves and es­pe­cially the hard black seeds are among the most poi­sonous of any plant.

Af­ter flow­er­ing, labur­num trees are usu­ally laden with tiny pods that burst open, scat­ter­ing the seeds. Small chil­dren may be tempted to try to chew them with se­ri­ous con­se­quences.

Some peo­ple have ex­pressed in­ter­est in the to­mato- like fruit of potato plants, with Pink Eye plants car­ry­ing enor­mous clus­ters.

Th­ese must never be eaten be­cause they also are poi­sonous. In fact so is potato fo­liage, plus any tu­bers that have turned green be­cause of ex­po­sure to sun­light.

Within a few weeks, fol­low­ing au­tumn rains, a large num­ber of toad­stools and other types of cap- fungi will be pop­ping up, usu­ally be­neath trees. Many of th­ese are far too dan­ger­ous to eat.

Among the most dan­ger­ous is the bright or­ange, fairy- tale toad­stool cov­ered with white spots. This is Fly Agaric and is highly poi­sonous.

We can help pre­vent poi­son­ing from garden plants by han­dling all of them care­fully. Never take the risk of tast­ing the leaves, fruit or any other part of a plant that is not nor­mally eaten.

CUTE KILLERS: Nerium oleander, a beau­ti­ful but deadly poi­sonous plant; and ( be­low) Fly Agaric, a pretty toad­stool but highly toxic.

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