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Know what plants can be harmful to pets and people

By Dr. Mari Maristany

Rowan County Animal Control

This is the time of year when so many of us cannot wait to get outside and start planting.

Some of us are flower people. We want beautiful plants around our house and around the patio so that we can enjoy the flowers and fragrances.

Others just can’t wait to get the tomatoes, squash or sweet corn planted. And some like potted plants and having gorgeous container gardens.

Some crazies, like me, have all three types of gardens.

Have you ever thought of which plants could be dangerous? This is not much of an issue if you have no small children or pets. And even with children and pets, some dangerous plants can still be planted if they are situated where they are not likely to be disturbed. Others should be avoided simply because they are so toxic that it would not be worth the risk.

To find out about these plants, a good source that I can recommend is the ASPCA’S Poison Control website. It has lists of plants that are irritating or toxic to dogs, cats and horses.

Another thing to remember is that many toxic plants taste horrible, so under normal circumstances, most animals will not ingest them. Puppies and kittens are more likely to experiment, so be especially careful with them.

One thing that we should note is the difference between irritating and toxic. Many plants irritate the mouth, throat and stomach but are not actually toxic. They can cause swollen lips and tongues, gagging and some vomiting or diarrhea, but that is usually the extent of the damage. Think of accidentally eating ghost peppers and you will have a good idea of what these are like.

In the irritating but not poisonous category are many common house plants and ornamentals. They include calla lilies, the whole dieffenbachia clan (it is with good reason one of the common names for this plant is “dumb cane”), philodendrons, elephant ears and caladiums, golden pothos, poinsettias, begonias and snake plant (also known as mother-in-law’s tongue).

In the poisonous category, we have many outdoor ornamentals. Most of these also taste bad and are often recommended as deer-proof plants.

Daffodils are a good example. Ever wonder why the voles and deer eat your tulips but don’t touch the daffodils? They are toxic and also taste horrible.

The more common of the toxic ornamental plants are cardinal flower and other lobelias, chrysanthemums (taste bad), leucothe, foxglove, gladiolus (taste bad), heavenly bamboo (nandina), lantana, rhododendrons and periwinkle (vinca). In the vegetable garden, tomato and potato leaves are toxic, as are rhubarb leaves (very toxic to people also). Onions and garlic can be seriously toxic to dogs and cats.

Some plants are very dangerous and should only be planted with caution. They include shrubs such as oleander and English yew (any Taxus species). A good place for these plants is in the median of highways.

One last dangerous plant is the castor bean plant. It is a beautiful, bold ornamental, but all parts are very toxic, and the castor beans especially so. The toxic principle is ricin (think chemical warfare and mass destruction). Plant with caution.

I would love to talk about more plants and pets, but I need to get out in the garden.

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