Gorgeous but deadly
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.