poisonous plants in public gardens

katycopsey(Z7bGA)July 19, 2005

There has been alot of action over the months regarding poisonous plants and should you plant them. Planting things like aconite in the private garden is one thing, but what about the public gardens that we all(or many of us) maintain. Having seen a very serious dermatological reaction to Rue (Ruta graveolens) in a public garden, what is the general concensus about this. Should we label them as poisonous. Should we distinguish between deadly, make you sick and an abortant?. Our mission is generally to educate, so shouldn't we educate the public on possible toxins in the plant world - we seem to have no problem doing it from the chemical world.

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Since the list of plants with varying degrees of toxicity far outways those without, how do you propose to covey this information? Most reputable gardening encyclopedias indicate toxicity, both if ingested as well as those that present dermatological reactions. And since susceptibility to phytotoxicity differs from person to person in much the same way as plant allergies do, how do you make that distinction?

Perhaps a warning on those plants highly indicated could be included on the labeling, which all public gardens should observe anyway.

    Bookmark   July 20, 2005 at 10:37AM
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I think a warning label on plants is appropriate and putting toxic plants(ie more than a little bad for you) away from the front.
I visited one herb garden in England where there was an area posted: 'Poisonous Plant Garden - no admittance to children under 12. Please do not touch or pick the plants'. I suspect her insurance perhaps nudged her in that direction.
It is something that is worth thinking about anyway.

    Bookmark   July 20, 2005 at 1:18PM
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You do raise some points worthy of consideration. I'm wondering how many trips to the doctor or emergency room, or even outright deaths have been reported in the nation that were due to someone not knowing a plant was poisonous/toxic...

    Bookmark   July 25, 2005 at 7:23PM
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The stats are out there - just do your research. Documented fatalities are extremely rare although kids with upset tummies are much more common. Most adults just don't graze on unknown plants or flowers and those that do are perhaps doing the rest of humanity a favor by belaying their dubious conribution to the gene pool. Kids can (and should) be trained early on not to put anything in their mouth without mom or dad's approval.
But you're looking at a lot of warning labels - plants with varying degrees of toxicity outweight those with none by a very wide margin.

    Bookmark   July 27, 2005 at 1:04AM
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jeffahayes(8a Upstate SC)

I have a new puppy this year who will, as I like to say "eat anything" (he's half chihuahua and we believe the other half is Jack Russell Terrier, to give you an idea both how cute AND how high-strung he is)...

Anyway, at our annual MG plant swap here, the lady who hosts it had set aside some castor bean plants for me (she gave me a couple last year, too, but I never got them in the ground, so they didn't grow big enough to bloom). My back yard is fenced, and the only place outdoors he's allowed without a leash, so I put the three castor bean plants in areas of my FRONT yard.

There are kids in the neighborhood, but none of them spend any time in my yard, and I seriously doubt any of them will be picking castor beans (the ones young enough to do that sort of thing don't get to cross the street yet). However, as they start bearing, I may warn some parents and some of the kids, just in case, since the beans ARE pretty. You can't be too careful.

As for exactly WHAT is toxic... some folks will call ANYTHING toxic if eating it can even give you a tummyache. I count only the stuff that can potentially give you permanent damage or kill you as toxic, but that's still a big enough list, like my daphnes I have planted up near the house... or my brugmansias, which ARE in the back yard, but have been safe from the puppy (so far)...

Some of the lists I've seen are a bit ridiculous... There's one on BonniesPlants website for plants that MAY be toxic in a pond that is so inclusive it's useless... says all parts of colocasia are toxic to fish, when I continually have colocasia leaves fall in my pond and my fish don't suffer... says oak leaves and acorns are, and the bottom of my pond gets COVERED with them every fall and winter without a single sick fish, yet.

So yeah, I think REALLY TOXIC plants in public displays -- especially ones that may cause dermatological responses -- should be labeled, but I think we should be moderate with what we call "toxic."

    Bookmark   August 4, 2005 at 2:18AM
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All valid points! As intrepreters/educators (I'm not a MG) at a public garden, there is the need for people to communicate information in both writtena nd verbal words. Perhaps one can't guarantee either of these media will reach every visitor all the time ( no one listens to EVERY word one hears, or bothers to READ everything in the world).

And the comment about "toxicity" hits an issue on the head. Some people must feel the need to give their own projects or concerns much more weight than needed. International (AUstralian) research maintains that oleanders are not as horrific as a lot of people write (meaning, the amount of plant biomass needed to be gorged to cause an effect is preposterous), and plus, there is a crappy public garden in my neck of the woods that clumped all the "poisonous plants" together in a hidous split-rail fence box. Beautiful plants, but presented so awfully.

Plus, in that circumstance, TORT law will not excuse any institution from liability if someone dies/ gets wounded or sick from any item on their property. SImply stating "Do not pick or touch the agave thorn" sign does not release you from any liability, and in fact, has been used in past litigation to reveal an admission of a hazard. (I live in the 2nd most ligation-crazed metro area in US).

As an aside, I loved plants when I was a little kid (as per mom's accounts). I loved to look and grow things and I loved bright colors. I never went around and deliberately picked leaves/flowers/seeds from what I saw and ate it...

Another issue in a public garden setting is approriate and acceptable behaviors of visitors ("take nothing but pictures, leeave nothing but footprints"), etc.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2005 at 10:27PM
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Juliana63(z5 MI)

It seems to me that the greater concern ought to be for chemicals and pesticides used in often careless abundance on home and public lawns -- more people and pets come into direct skin contact with grass than plants in gardens.

But it's the perception of risk rather than the reality that most people react to. Vigilance on the part of caretakers (of both children and pets) combined with common sense should be sufficient safeguards, but alas, both are often neglected.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2005 at 9:53AM
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Juliana is absolutely right. The greater concern should be chemicals that are applied to lawns and plants. They say poke weed is poisonous but I have eaten it with no side affects. They used to say tomatoes were poisonous then poinsettias. both of these have been discounted as not poisonous. Once on a garden tour in Florida I was picking and tasting berries when a woman asked what I was eating. I said "I don't know, but it tastes familiar." It turned out to be coffee beans. I grew up like Tom Sawyer, barefood and roaming far and wide. We always sampled whatever we found like persimmons, blackberries, crabapples, hickory nuts, acorns, elderberries, pokeberries (which taste awful but birds eat them) and beautyberries (ditto). Nowadays that would be considered reckless behaviour but we always did it and survived splendidly.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2005 at 10:54AM
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andie_rathbone(Tyler, TX - 7B)

I'm with Juliana. Here at the Tyler Rose gardens the roses are sprayed weekly & when that's being done the park is closed to the public. The first clue to the toxicity of these chemicals would be the maintenance guys wearing moon suits as they're spraying.

I also think that banning plants from public gardens that are poisonous if eaten is a bit much to ask for and I would think that the administrators of public gardens would be in the right to assume that people (mostly parents) would not think of a public garden as a free salad bar. However in our litigious society, I could very well be wrong about that.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2005 at 2:45PM
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sandy0225(z5 Indiana)

I volunteer at Garfield Park Conservatory in Indianapolis, and we have signs up stating not to touch any of the plants, as some are poisonous, and others have large thorns,and some will cause allergic rashes. You should see how many people walk through there with their hands behind their backs!

    Bookmark   August 31, 2005 at 8:09PM
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