Dangerous plants: keeping children safe

Dangerous plants: keeping children safe

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Making your garden safe for children

Gardens are generally safe and interesting places, and children often love spending time in them. But gardens aren't always designed with children in mind.

Supervising your child is the best way to avoid danger in the garden or anywhere else, but this isn't always possible. This means it's very important to make the garden safe.

You can do this by avoiding growing poisonous plants and dangerous plants. Fence off or remove any suspect plants until your child is old enough to learn not to eat strange plants (usually at around the age of three years).

Highly poisonous plants: plants to destroy or remove

Castor oil plant (Ricinus communis)
This is a common self-sown weed with toxic seeds, flowers and leaves. Chewing and swallowing a few seeds can cause severe nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and abdominal pain.

Coral tree (Erythrina genus)
The leaves, bark and seeds are poisonous. The seeds are particularly toxic for children and can cause shortness of breath, cyanosis (when the skin gets a blue tint because there's not enough oxygen in the blood), weakness and light-headedness.

Common or pink oleander (Nerium oleander) and yellow oleander (Thevetia peruviana)
Every part of these shrubs, including the seeds, is poisonous. Symptoms include staggering, vomiting, diarrhoea, irregular heart action, dilated pupils and coma leading to death.

Deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna)
The attractive round purple/black berries on this plant are highly toxic. Eating the berries can cause drowsiness, facial flushing, fever, vomiting, confusion and hallucinations.

Golden dewdrop (Duranta erecta)
This is a common self-sown weed with pretty but poisonous leaves and berries. Eating these parts of the plant can cause nausea or vomiting, drowsiness, convulsions, fast heart rate, fever and in some cases death. This ornamental plant is also known as sky flower.

Rhus or wax tree (Toxicodendron succedaneum)
Also known as poison ivy, this plant can trigger strong allergic reactions in many people, causing rashes, redness, itchiness and blisters over the course of a week or longer. Avoid contact, even contact with clothing or tools, or exposure to sawdust or ash from the plant. Wear protective clothing when removing the plant.

White cedar tree (Melia azedarach)
This is a native tree. Eating the fruits can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, lethargy, confusion, coma and seizures.

If you or someone in your care might have been exposed to a poisonous plant, immediately call the Poisons Information Centre on 131 126 for advice - 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, Australia wide. If you need to go to hospital, try to take a piece of the plant with you for identification purposes.

Dangerous plants to avoid

Angel's trumpet (Brugmansia genus)
The flowers, seeds and nectar are very poisonous.

Arum lily (Zantedeschia aethiopica)
All parts of the plant can cause irritation and pain in the mouth when chewed.

Belladonna lily, naked lady (Amaryllis belladonna)
The sap and bulb are especially toxic to children.

Cacti and other succulents (fleshy plants)
Children can cut themselves or injure their eyes on the spikes.

If your child puts a chilli in her mouth or touches one then rubs her eyes, it could be uncomfortable or even painful.

All parts of this popular ornamental shrub are poisonous, especially the attractive berries.

Dumb cane (Dieffenbachia genus)
Eating this plant can irritate the mouth and cause swelling, although it won't do any permanent damage.

Euphorbia genus
The sap from these common plants can cause severe pain and injury to the eyes. Also known as spurge and milkweed, this genus includes Poinsettia, a popular Christmas plant.

Hemlock (poison parsley) and water hemlock (cowbane)
These are commonly found toxic plants.

All parts of this flowering shrub, especially the green berries, can cause stomach pains, jaundice and muscle weakness.

Mushrooms and toadstools
Although most of the toxic species - like death caps and the red and white fly agaric - are found in forests and parklands rather than backyards, there are many poisonous species. It's worth clearing all mushrooms or toadstools from your yard until your child is old enough to know not to touch them.

The plants listed here are some of the most common and most dangerous. To find out more about these and other dangerous plants, visit the Queensland Poisons Information Centre.

Plants to treat with caution

Bulbs can be poisonous. These include agapanthus, autumn crocus, clivia, daffodil, hippeastrum, hyacinth, lily of the valley, tulips and some irises.

The bright yellow and red seeds are used in bush tucker, but only after the toxins have been leached out. They're poisonous if you eat them fresh from the branch.

Grevilleas (especially 'Robyn Gordon' and Robusta)
Some grevillea species can trigger itching, redness and rashes if children have an allergic reaction on contact.

All parts, especially the leaves, are poisonous (the stems are safe when cooked).

Sticky weed or asthma weed (Parietaria judaica)
This can be associated with asthma attacks and can cause skin allergies.

If you're unsure whether the plants in your garden are safe, ask your local nursery for advice. You can also get a list of poisonous plants from your nursery or local council.