Please Don’t Eat the Daisies:

Part 2: They May Be Toxic

by Janice F. Booth

Apr. 25, 2023


Last month I wrote about some of the tastier plants we can grow in our own gardens—plants offering us both beauty and benefits. This month, I want to warn you about some of the plants that may be lovely to look at, or not, but can cause you, your child, or your pet to get a tummy ache, a rash, a racing heartbeat, or worse. 

I’ll begin with a review of some of the most common poisonous plants, and some less common toxic ones. I’ll note plants that are dangerous for pets too. Then, I’ll give you a few rules-of-thumb for identifying dangerous plants. And finally, some first aid options that might help you avoid a trip to the clinic or ER.

When it comes to health and poisonous plants the best idea is to familiarize ourselves with the appearance of the most common and prolific plants that can cause pain or a rash. There are lots of sites, including Pinterest and the CDC, that have charts we can print out and thumbtack to our garden shed or backdoor as handy reminders of the most common poisonous plants. (Remember: some of us are more sensitive to toxins than the general population. If you have a sensitive tummy or delicate skin, you want to really study this list.

Common Plants Poisonous/Toxic to Humans 


Poison Ivy: clusters of three leaves, each pointed, green, and glossy with white berries in autumn. The vines can be tricky, snaking among leaves and plants and popping up “suddenly” anywhere. You might pull out a pop-up cluster, only to find the vine goes on-and-on through your flower bed and up a tree. Stay alert! Do not work to remove the leaves or vines without first protecting your hands, arms, and legs with washable coverings. (Even if you have previously touched poison ivy with no ill effects, your body loses resistance, and next time you may develop a nasty reaction.) 


Poison Oak: prevalent in wooded areas; shiny, lobed leaves—rounder than poison ivy. Three-leaf clusters cause rashes and respiratory complications. Both stems and leaves are poisonous. 


Oleander: tall, bushy, dramatic shrubs with slender leaves and blousy blossoms of tiny, clustered flowers in gorgeous pinks, rose, and white. Oleanders are evergreen. Both the stems and leaves are poisonous, even when dead and fallen among dry leaves in autumn. So, be careful when raking if you have beautiful oleanders in your flowerbeds. 


Poison Sumac: large shrubs with fuzzy green stems and leaves and bunches of green berries that just beg to be used in a pretty arrangement in your house. Don’t fall for it! The berry clusters and leaves are likely to cause a rash or worse. (Sumac with red berries are not poisonous.)


Common Plant Seeds Poisonous/Toxic 

Less dangerous seeds of some plants are still poisonous. We probably won’t pop a few unidentified seeds into our salads or our trail mix, but, just in case, here are some of our favorite garden flowers whose seeds are going to make you sick if you ingest them:

Four O’clocks: With trumpet-like red or yellow flowers. They grow to be 1–4 feet tall. 

Foxglove: Tall, elegant plants with bell-shaped flowers clustered around the top of the stalk. Every part of the foxglove is poisonous! 

Jack-In-the-Pulpit: Yes, those old-fashioned darlings with creamy pitcher-shaped flowers produce toxic seeds. 

Lily-of-the-Valley: Our fragrant, little flowers that fill in beneath the oaks and maple trees, produce small orange seeds in late summer. Leave them alone. 

Morning Glory: Another old-fashioned favorite, vining around our fences and porches, with blue and purple blooms peeking out at every turn. Those black seeds are toxic.

Sweet Peas: With the prettiest slender vines and curly-cues and those clusters of 4–5 lavender blossoms, the seeds are still going to make you ill if eaten.



Mildly Toxic Plants to Pets 

We know our furry friends often let their curiosity get them into trouble, and they rub against almost anything, eating and chewing on everything they encounter. So, beware. (Check out the American Kennel Club’s web site for helpful advice on keeping your dogs safe.)

House plants:

Aloe (ironically, what is healing to our skin makes cats and dogs ill, if ingested) • Corn plant • Dieffenbachia • Fichus • Peace Lily • Poinsettia  • Snake plant

Outdoor plants: 

Keep your dog from digging up and gnawing on your bulbs; they’ll give him/her a tummy ache! Most of the flowers we rely on to bring color to our gardens, if eaten, will make dogs and pussy cats sick! For example:

Begonia • Chrysanthemums • Daffodils • Foxglove • Geranium • Hyacinth • Iris • Lily • Lily of the Valley • Tulips

And if your dog is a chewer, ready to gnaw on any branch that he or she can reach, be aware of these toxic shrubs:

Azalea • Holly • Hydrangea • Ivy • Oleander • Peony • Rhododendron • Sago palm

Moderately Toxic Plants to Pets:

Azalea • Holly • Ivy • Norfolk pine • Rhododendron 

Extremely Toxic Plants to Pets:

Calla lily (actually, most types of lilies) • Hydrangea • Mistletoe • Oleander • Sago palm • Skunk cabbage 



To prevent the adverse effects (rash, nausea, vertigo, or more severe):

1. Familiarize yourself with the appearance of common toxic plants. 2. When working in areas of the garden that may contain toxic plants, wear clothing that covers exposed skin and is washable. 3. Wash clothing and any contaminated skin if you suspect exposure. 4. Avoid petting until you have washed the fur of any pet that may have been in contact with toxic plants. 5. Do not burn toxic plants or parts of toxic plants; the smoke will still be poisonous.

Quick first aid—if the suspected contamination is to a person whose health is already compromised, go immediately to a medical provider for care. For less vulnerable exposures:

1. Remove any contaminated clothing. 2. Wash contaminated skin, fur, clothing, and equipment with soap and water. Tecnu soap is noted for its effectiveness. For mild exposure, rubbing alcohol can be used to cleanse skin.  3. For a mild rash, cold compresses and antihistamines and/or Calamine lotion may work.

Now that we’re all eager to get out there and dig in the dirt, I hope we can avoid an unpleasant bout of nausea or itchy rash to start the gardening season.

by Janice F. Booth


About J. F. Booth

I am a writer and educator.
This entry was posted in Nature, Published articles. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Please Don’t Eat the Daisies:

  1. says:

    Another great article to read. I plan on forwarding this one to Jen and Jeff also. Especially since they have four dogs!! I know I’m not the sharpest crayon in the box, but when I look at leaves, they all look alike to me. So my idea is, if I don’t get it in the grocery store, I’m not going to eat it or touch it.


I would be interested in your thoughts...

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