A Guide to Dangerous Plants and Flowers

Nature is home to things of beauty that can be lovely, deadly, or both. This is evident in plants and flowers that can decorate one's home or yard or that grow wild in parks or in the woods. Dangerous plants are a serious matter, as they are often deceptive in appearance and contain chemicals that can irritate the skin, cause illness, and in some cases ultimately result in death. For this reason, failure to properly recognize toxic plants can become a serious problem during camping or hiking trips or when tinkering in unfamiliar gardens. A lack of knowledge regarding dangerous plants is particularly hazardous for families with children, as they frequently play among plants and, depending on age, may even stick them in their mouths.

Dangerous Plants

Often, people are only familiar with a handful of poisonous plants; however, in nature and even in nurseries, there are many different types of dangerous plants out there. Because not all dangerous plants are the same, it is important to know what to avoid and what can happen if accidental contact is made. Two common types of poisonous plants are western hemlock and poison hemlock. These two plants are both a part of the parsley family. Poison hemlock can be found in fields and has the smell and appearance of a wild carrot. Coniine alkaloids are the toxin in this plant, which was used to kill Socrates. All parts of the plant are toxic and can be fatal if consumed; however, the most dangerous parts of the plant are the roots and stem. A person who has ingested this plant will show symptoms such as trembling or tremors, vomiting, abdominal pain, tachycardia, coma, ascending paralysis, and respiratory failure. The western water hemlock has a tuberous root that has poison-filled chambers. It has a similar appearance to water parsnip, which can result in accidental ingestion. It contains a toxin called cicutoxin and is considered one of North America's most toxic plants. Victims show cardiac and gastrointestinal signs of poisoning as well as signs of central nervous system poisoning such as convulsions and seizures.

Castor bean is a plant that is easily purchased at nurseries and garden centers. It is dangerous because it contains a poison called ricin. The toxin, which is in the plant seeds, can be extracted for use as a poison, or it can be accidentally ingested by humans. If castor beans or ricin are consumed, symptoms include diarrhea, vomiting, dehydration, seizures, low blood pressure, and bloody urine. Death is also a consequence of castor poisoning, as it can cause failure of the kidneys, spleen, and liver.

Additional plants that are dangerous include the asparagus fern, which causes swelling and blisters of the skin upon contact and is toxic when its berries are consumed. Elephant ear is a plant that can be grown either indoor or outdoors: It contains oxalic acid and asparagine, which can be toxic and cause tongue swelling, severe burning of the throat, vomiting, and nausea when large quantities of leaves or stems are chewed or eaten. Mala mujer, or bull nettle, is a dangerous southwestern plant that causes painful irritation of the skin and discoloration. The plant's danger lies in its sap, which has a milky consistency. In addition to the sap, the leaves of the plant have hairs that are sharp and can also cause irritation on contact. This initial irritation can last hours, but the discoloration caused by the plant can last for months.

Dangerous Flowers

Flowers make beautiful additions to one's yard and are decorative in the home. Despite their attractiveness, some flowers are surprisingly toxic if eaten or even touched. An example of this is the oleander. Oleander flowers are popular for their bright colors: pink, white, purple, or red. The stems, twigs, flowers, and leaves of this lovely plant, however, are all poisonous and contain toxins such as digitoxigenin, oleandrin, and neriin. Human poisoning from this plant most often occurs either when it is chewed or when the flower nectar is ingested. Common symptoms associated with oleander poisoning includes nausea, vomiting, blurred vision, low blood pressure and irregular heartbeat, confusion, dizziness, headache, and lethargy. In severe cases, a person may see halos, feel depressed, and/or suffer from a loss of appetite. Loss of life is also possible in extreme cases. Other than ingestion, contact with the plant's sap can cause irritation to the skin, including a rash and/or hives.

Daffodils are another highly toxic plant that poses a danger to humans. These trumpet-shaped flowers of yellow or orange and white can cause death or extreme illness when the bulb is consumed. This typically occurs as the result of mistaken identity, as they are similar in appearance to onions. The alkaloid lycorine is the ingredient that primarily causes the plant's toxicity. Daffodils are most commonly a source of irritation to the skin, and contact with the sap can cause a rash known as the "daffodil itch." In addition to the rash, painful sores can also develop.

Cyanide poisoning is a threat when it comes to hydrangeas. The leaves, buds, and flowers of this plant are potentially deadly if ingested. Symptoms include vomiting, sweating, and lethargy hours after poisoning has occurred. Lycorine is the toxic alkaloid that makes ornamental amaryllis a dangerous plant for humans. The danger comes from ingestion of the bulbs, which can cause diarrhea, salivation, nausea, and vomiting. Other dangerous plants include lily-of-the-valley, azaleas, and calla lillies.

Prevention Practice and Treatment

Ideally, people will want to prevent contact with flowers or plants that can cause them harm. To prevent ingestion of poisonous plants, avoid putting any type of plant in the mouth without first accurately identifying it. This is the surest way to avoid poisoning and is something that parents should make clear to their children. Education is yet another way to stay safe. People should educate themselves on what type of poisonous plants are in the area and teach themselves and their kids how to accurately identify them. People should also avoid touching plants that they are unfamiliar with. If gardening and handling unknown or toxic plants, it is important to wear gloves. Long-sleeved shirts or sweaters and long pants can also help prevent contact between dangerous plants and one's skin. Some may mistakenly follow the lead of their pets, assuming that if a dog eats a plant, it is safe for human consumption as well. This is a false assumption, and people should never use this as a way of judging whether a plant is safe for consumption. When dangerous plants are bought indoors for decorative purposes, keep them high up so that they are beyond the reach of children. In the event of accidental ingestion, seek advice from the poison control hotline or emergency care if seizures occur or the individual is not conscious. If the toxic plant is a skin irritant, rinse the area thoroughly with soap and cool water. Any clothing that has come in contact with the toxic plant should also be removed from the body. If it has been ingested, remove any remaining plant parts from the mouth. Do not induce vomiting, but rinse out the mouth with water. In both cases, keep a sample of the plant for identification purposes, making sure to handle it with care.

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