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Do you know which of the six plants pictured here are poisonous?
Britain doesn’t have a lot of really nasty poisonous plants, but as childminders there are a few you should be able to recognise. Some plants can make you very ill if you eat them or give you a nasty skin rash if you touch them. Do you know which ones they are?
Six Poisonous Plants
The quiz is a trick. In fact, ALL of the plants pictured here can harm you, causing symptoms that range from nausea and vomiting to nasty skin blisters that last for months. Some of these plants can actually kill you. But don’t overreact and go cutting down trees and pulling up flowers! Read on so you understand what the risk and real dangers are to yourself and to the children you care for.
A: Foxglove Leaves
The leaves of foxglove plants are poisonous. They contain a drug that is used in medicine to regulate the heart, but eating more than about two of the leaves can cause a heart attack. The leaves apparently taste very bitter so you are unlikely to eat them by accident! Many people who try to kill themselves by overdosing on foxglove leaves often find that they throw up before the poison starts to work.
One fatal accident involved a child who drank the water from a vase containing foxglove plants. So don’t pick foxgloves and put them in a vase in your playroom!
B: Laburnum Seeds
The seed pods of laburnum trees look a lot like bean pods. It is easy to imagine why children think the early seed pods are beans especially if you ever let them open and eat sugar snap pea pods. As they ripen, they change colour from green to black and they also harden so they are less likely to be eaten later in the season.
You certainly don’t need to cut down your beautiful laburnum tree if you are a childminder. But you should prune off the lower branches which will keep the seeds out of reach of young children or put a fence around the bottom. Most importantly is to tell the children not to eat them and explain why. Apparently it takes quite a large quantity of the seed pods to cause any real harm to a child, but I wouldn’t chance it. If a child eats any laburnum seeds seek medical advice.
People bring mistletoe into their houses at Christmas and put little sprigs over doorways to kiss under. But mistletoe is actually poisonous and poisoning can occur when you eat any part of the plant, especially the leaves. You can also be poisoned from drinking a tea created from the leaves or berries. So watch out! If someone ‘lovingly’ tries to feed you mistletoe berries while kissing you underneath a sprig, they are probably actually trying to murder you!
D: Daffodil Bulbs
The bulbs of daffodils are poisonous if you eat them. Apparently what happens is that people find them in the shed and think they are onion bulbs and then cook stews with them by accident thinking they are cooking onions. The resulting meal will taste very strange and make you sick. It could even kill you. When you see this box of bulbs you can see why it’s not as crazy as it initially sounds!
Does this mean that you shouldn’t plant daffodil bulbs on your windowsill with small children anymore? Of course not! But if there is any chance that a small child could have eaten one of the bulbs (and we all know small children who just might) then I would definitely seek medical advice, just in case.
E: Yew Tree Leaves
Yew trees are evergreen trees that are often grown in cemeteries and can be really, really old. They often have signs on them asking you not to climb them and this is actually to protect you as well as the tree as the leaves of yew trees can cause nasty skin blisters if you rub up against them. These blisters can be quite severe and last for many months. If you eat the leaves they are also poisonous and can cause vomiting, diarrhea, convulsions and can even kill you.
Our infant school has a lovely yew tree right in the front ground. The children used to sit under it to eat. Then one day they fenced the whole thing off, which we all thought was quite mean, but now I understand why.
F: Giant Hogsweed Sap
Giant hogweed is a wild plant that grows along footpaths and riverbanks that makes stinging nettles seem positively friendly! Giant hogsweed can grow up to five metres tall. If the sap of the plant comes into contact with your skin, it can cause severe, painful burns.
If you touch a giant hogweed wash the affected area with soap and water. The blisters often heal very slowly and can develop into phytophotodermatitis, a type of skin rash which flares up in sunlight.
I do hope this article hasn’t made gardening with childminded children or taking them on a walk in the countryside sound as dangerous as taking them to feed the lions. These are just dangers that, like all the poisons found inside your house, you should be aware of when you look after young children.
Always teach children not to eat anything from the garden or while you are out walking unless you have told them it’s ok. Be very careful about giving mixed messages to young children. For example, everyone tells children not to eat red berries because we all know that red means poison. However, blackberry picking is great fun, isn’t it? But blackberries can appear quite red before they are fully ripe. And they’re not poisonous. How are children supposed to know? This certainly doesn’t mean you should never go blackberry picking. Just that it is important to teach children to be sensible and to watch them carefully.
For More Information
Read this NHS article for more information on plant dangers in the garden and countryside.
This full, exhaustive list of plants that could cause poisoning from the Royal Agricultural Society will make you afraid to grow anything other than grass in your garden.
And if you’re really interested, there’s a whole book on the subject: ‘Poisonous Plants: a guide for parents and childcare providers’, by Elizabeth A. Dauncey
The plant photos in this article are all reproduced under The Creative Commons License
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