How can I tell what’s poi­sonous and what’s not?


Spe­cial to the Whig

It is easy to be fooled by seem­ingly com­mon and harm­less plants in our gar­dens, es­pe­cially if you are a gar­dener who is in­trigued by the mys­tique of plants. It is truly amaz­ing how one tiny seed con­tains all that is needed to sprout and grow 12 feet in a few months right be­fore our eyes.

Plants pro­vide habi­tat and oxy­gen cru­cial to the sur­vival of all life forms. They are so ver­sa­tile and beau­ti­ful to hu­mans that we spend a re­mark­able amount of time se­lect­ing, grow­ing, prun­ing, preen­ing and ar­rang­ing them in ev­ery imag­in­able sce­nario just for plea­sure. Botan­i­cal gar­dens world­wide are a tes­ta­ment to our rev­er­ence.

Oh yes, did I for­get to men­tion food? No plants, no food. Not only do plants pro­vide for hu­mans, but they do so for most of the an­i­mal king­dom and for them­selves as well.

An­other mar­vel is that plants do their work for free. En­er­gized by the sun, they man­u­fac­ture what is needed to sus­tain all life on the planet. But don’t be­come too en­chanted by all this magic. One part of your fa­vorite fruit may be beau­ti­ful, en­tic­ing, ed­i­ble and tasty, while an­other part may cause pain and suf­fer­ing to you or some other un­sus­pect­ing crea­ture.

Be wary friends, treat un­known plants with re­spect and know many plants have means of defending them­selves from preda­tors. Plants can’t run away and hide or scream for help. In­stead,

NORTH EAST — With Bambi John­son, it’s al­ways on to the next. Through­out her life, the 59-year-old has found suc­cess in sev­eral fields of the per­form­ing arts, in­clud­ing as a dance in­struc­tor and NFL cheer­leader. Her lat­est is as pro­duc­ing artis­tic di­rec­tor at Mil­burn Stone The­atre.

In that role, she’ll un­veil her first sea­son of shows Satur­day at the an­nual gala, a task that she said has her more ex­cited than any­thing else. That’s not all that un­usual.

In the months since tak­ing over for for­mer di­rec­tor Lee Lewis, who is rec­og­nized as hav­ing im­proved Mil­burn Stone’s num­ber of shows and over­all qual­ity, John­son has been in­ject­ing her own brand of en­ergy into the the­ater. She’s hop­ing to in­te­grate more with the col­lege and the com­mu­nity.

While she’s sav­ing specifics of the show sched­ule for this week­end’s un­veil­ing, she said the 2017 sea­son will in­clude eight plays or mu­si­cals, in­clud­ing two by Dis­ney.

“I’m not in this busi­ness to dis­ap­point peo­ple, you know?” John­son said. “I want to make peo­ple happy. I want peo­ple to walk away from a show and take some­thing with them …. Art should move you. If it’s not to make you feel good, it should make you think.”

John­son con­sid­ers her­self some­one with both the bless­ing and the curse of high en­ergy lev­els, de­pend­ing on how you’d like to look at it. Her per­son­al­ity comes across as that of a much younger per­son, but she said she only sleeps around four to five hours a night. And ac­cord­ing to her hus­band Eyvo John­son, 52, that num­ber is of­ten even lower when she’s work­ing on a show. they have a va­ri­ety of ways to pro­tect them­selves, spines and thorns for in­stance. An­other de­fense is found in the chem­i­cals pro­duced by var­i­ous plants to ward off en­e­mies.

Poi­sons are many plants’ fa­vorite de­fense mech­a­nism. Plants ‘know’ if they are be­ing wounded or out­right at­tacked. In re­sponse, some plants can re­lease toxic com­pounds to sig­nal to the of­fender to get lost or die. Some plants can also sig­nal neigh­bor­ing plants of a threat so they too will re­lease a warn­ing to re­pel de­struc­tive pests or at­tract ben­e­fi­cial preda­tors.

This chem­i­cal sig­nal­ing could save their lives but they can also cause ill­ness or even death to jan­toshak@ches­

other in­no­cent crea­tures caught in the line of fire. Idioblasts (“crazy cells”) con­tain tox­ins and or sharp crys­tals that tear the mouth parts of those who dare to de­vour them help­ing pro­tect the plant against her­bi­vores.

Tri­chomes (leaf hairs) of the net­tle for in­stance, not only dis­em­bowel the un­sus­pect­ing cater­pil­lar but in­ject poi­son into the wound. Truly evil. A species of net­tle in In­done­sia is known to cause per- ma­nent nerve dam­age. Hope­fully it stays there.

Glan­du­lar tri­chomes in wild pota­toes se­crete oils that re­pel aphids and Colorado potato bee­tle. The in­sect lands upon the fo­liage and en­coun­ters tri­chomes that coat the in­sect with a sticky stuff, then the strug­gling bug ini­ti­ates the re­lease of a poi­son. Dead bug.

His­tory tells us Ole­an­der and other plants used as for heal­ing by early medicine women led to the ac­cu­sa­tion of a witch or two. All parts of the Ole­an­der plant are highly toxic, widely planted and con­sid­ered in­va­sive in some lo-

cations. Hmmm, poi­sonous AND in­va­sive. The poi­son­ing from this de­vi­ous plant can lead to se­ri­ous ill­ness. Symp­toms in­clude skin rash, blurred vi­sion, vis­ual halos, di­ar­rhea, nausea, stom­ach pain, vom­it­ing, loss of ap­petite, ir­reg­u­lar or slowed heart­beat, weak­ness, low blood pres­sure, con­fu­sion, dizzi­ness, headache, faint­ing, de­pres­sion, drowsi­ness, or lethargy, de­pres­sion, loss of ap­petite.

About 6 per­cent of calls to the ASPCA hot­line in­volve pets and poi­sonous plants. Un­der­stand­ing which plants pose a dan­ger is the best way to keep them safe. Hun-

gry graz­ing an­i­mals may in­stinc­tively be tempted to nib­ble on dan­ger­ous plants in the pas­ture or at­tempt to ven­ture to other nearby un­man­aged pas­tures dur­ing droughts. Ad­e­quate for­age and good pas­ture man­age­ment are the best pre­ven­ta­tive mea­sures.

Curious? Learn more. The Master Gar­den­ers of Ce­cil County, to­gether with the Hor­ti­cul­ture Club at Ce­cil Col­lege, will spon­sor an ed­u­ca­tional pro­gram fea­tur­ing Lisa Mur­phy, pro­fes­sor of tox­i­col­ogy at the Univer­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia, who will dis­cuss poi­sonous plants in your land­scape. Also, Sam Droege, a wildlife bi­ol­o­gist from Patux­ent Wildlife Pre­serve, will present the lives of na­tive bees. This will hap­pen Satur­day, Oct. 8, at 10 a.m. in the Tech­nol­ogy build­ing au­di­to­rium TC-106 at Ce­cil Col­lege. Light re­fresh­ments will be avail­able. Seat­ing is lim­ited. Ad­mis­sion is free. Call 410-9965280.

Each week, a Ce­cil County Master Gar­dener will write in to share their gardening ex­pe­ri­ences or an­swer a gardening ques­tion. To sub­mit ques­tions to the Master Gar­dener, send them to ce­cil­mas­ter­gar­


Mil­burn Stone The­atre Di­rec­tor Bambi John­son stands in front of the stage and lis­tens to co­work­ers (not pic­tured).


The seed pod of a datura stra­mo­nium (also known as Jim­son weed or Devil’s snare), opens to re­lease its seeds. The plant can cause hos­pi­tal­iza­tion or death if con­sume in ex­cess of medic­i­nal doses.


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