Plant Poisoning in Spring

With all this nice weather, we hope you and your children are getting chance to enjoy your yard, garden or the local parks and wild spaces. Of course, with nice weather comes all the nice flowers. Now, which ones are poisonous and which did your child just eat?

We often get asked about plants in class and no wonder, they are one of the most common causes of poisoning in children. Sadly it’s difficult to remember every species and all their effects. Below is a short list of some plants which cause calls to Poison Control regularly, along with information about them. If you aren’t sure, pick up the phone! (1-800-567-8911 in BC)

Springtime Poisonous Plants

(A combined extract from the BC Poisons Control Springtime Hazards & Plant Awareness.)

Azaleas/Rhododendrons: All parts of these plant species are poisonous. Symptoms include burning in the mouth, salivation, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea  Swallowing large amounts may cause drowsiness and changes to blood pressure and heart rate. Do not induce vomiting. Rinse out mouth and drink a glass of water or milk. Popsicles work well also. Contact the Poison Control Centre. 

rhododendron1

A lovely pink, poisonous rhododendron.

Spring Crocus: Is not toxic. Don’t confuse it with the autumn crocus!

Daffodils/Narcissus: All parts of the plant are poisonous, but especially the bulbs. May cause nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhea. Symptoms usually subside within 4 hours but may last up to 24 hours. The bulb also contains calcium oxalate crystals, which can cause irritation to the mouth and throat. 

Iris – All parts of the plant are considered toxic. May cause mouth, stomach or skin irritation.

Mushrooms: Get as much information as you can and call poison control on this one. Could be anything from a yummy meal to deadly.

Prunus species: Includes cherries, plums, apricots, peaches…. Obviously the fruit isn’t a problem, but the seed (pit, stone) contains cyanide. All parts of the cherry tree are toxic except the fruit. Poisoning is not expected when the hard pit is swallowed whole. The body does not digest the pit so it just passes through the gastrointestinal tract and is excreted in the stool. The main concern with young children ingesting the pit would be the choking hazard Swallowing one or two still wouldn’t be a problem.

The Cherry Laurel: All parts of the plant except the cherry fruit contain cyanide. If the cherry & stone are swallowed they usually can’t be digested, so aren’t a problem. 

1 Plant sp. 7 - wetland 2011.08.30.jpg
By Emőke Dénes – WWT London Wetland Centre, CC BY-SA 2.5

Tulips – The bulb is nontoxic but may cause dermatitis (“tulip itch”) most often in people who handle the bulbs frequently such as gardeners or nursery workers. Swallowing the bulb may cause an upset stomach. Tulip bulb dermatitis usually affects the hands and is characterized by redness, swelling, itching, eczema and blisters. Fingernails may become brittle and cracked. See your family doctor if dermatitis develops.

A General “What to do” if your child swallows plants or parts

  • Remove any remaining plant parts from their mouth, or have them spit the stuff out
  • If they are choking or having breathing difficulties, get the ambulance on the way and follow your training for choking, CPR or Anaphylaxis (you have been to class, right?)
  • No breathing problems? Call Poisons Control (1-800-567-8911)
  • If you need to go to the hospital, take the plant or plenty of it with you. One leaf or one berry isn’t enough for good identification.
  • If they tell you to go to the nursery or garden centre for plant identification, go but don’t worry about speeding. You have time. (Find a nursery who can do this for you ahead of time. It may not be your local Canadian Tire.)
  • Knowing the plant name will save you a lot of worry

Hint: Right Now is the best time to go and find out what’s in your yard or neighbourhood.

About Tony Howarth

Tony is a First Aid & CPR Instructor Trainer with Sea 2 Sky Safety Training Services and the company founder. Tony started with the British Red Cross in 1994. Has acted as first aid attendant for hundreds of events & treated many hundreds of people as a result. He is experienced in training a wide range of courses. He previously worked as an ambulance attendant with the British Red Cross. He is now in BC as a first aid instructor, and an instructor trainer (one who trains others to become instructors) Finally, Tony works at UBC Hospital as a pharmacist when not busy training safety
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