Learning the idiosyncrasies of plants

  • Dangerous plant: the flowers and leaves of Angel’s trumpet are dangerously narcotic

    Dangerous plant: the flowers and leaves of Angel’s trumpet are dangerously narcotic


Plants are part of our being, but we take them for granted.

They enhance their locations, be they in our offices or homes, they line our roads and generally create areas of peace and quiet.

They assist in us breathing fresh air, supply us with material to build and food to sustain us. They contain elements which can be extracted for medicinal use, but can also be dangerous if treated incorrectly.

Poisonous plants are found in our landscapes and gardens. Left alone, they are innocuous but care should be taken when working around them. Ingesting and touching are the major causes of sickness. In many cases, the symptoms appear unrelated to a specific plant.

Wearing gloves and goggles and covering arms and legs will help with dermatological problems.

Youngsters and animals are at greater risk of ingesting seeds and fruits.

Many plants that exude a white sap when the epidermis is ruptured can cause a nasty irritation to the skin and can spread further if the offending substance is transmitted to other parts of the body.

Plants to be wary of include slipper flower (Pedilanthus tithymaloides), Mexican flame vine (Senecio confusus) and Brazilian pepper (Schinus terebinthifolius).

Oleander (Nerium oleander) is one of numerous plants found in our gardens that contains substances that can cause problems. The smoke from burning oleander is highly toxic, while oleander sap can cause skin problems.

All parts of the Lucky Nut (Thevetia peruviana) plant, except the pulp of the fruit, contain toxic glycosides which can burn the tongue and lead to nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and high blood pressure.

Lantana (Lantana camara) is a shrubby herb with green fruits which, in quantity, are fatally toxic and cause neuro-circulatory collapse.

The Pride of India (Melia azedarach) tree contains alkaloids in its fruit pulp that cause severe gastroenteritis and attack the central nervous system.

The coral plant (Jatropha multifida) is a shrub with seeds that are toxic and cause violent vomiting.

Castor bean (Ricinus communis) is a shrub with seeds that contain purgative oil and phytotoxin ricin, which are also a potent allergen.

Chalice vince (Solandra longiflora) contains alkaloids such as atropine, which make the flowers powerfully narcotic, while the sap must be kept away from eyes.

Fruit from the shrub jessamine (Cestrum diurnum) is powerfully narcotic if taken in quantity.

Angel’s trumpet (Datura candida) is a small tree that contains atropine and other alkaloids. Its flowers and leaves are dangerously narcotic.

Crushed fruit from the chili pepper (Capsicum frutescens) shrub can cause a burning rash, inflammation of the eyes, nostrils and internal organs.

The palm, the fruit pulp and juice in fishtail palm (Caryota mitis) cause acute inflammation externally and internally.

The milky sap of candelabra cactus (Euphorbia lactea) causes severe eye inflammation and may blister sensitive skin. One can expect a similar effect from pencil tree (Euphorbia tirucalli).

Sap from the poinsettia shrub, (Euphorbia pulcherrima), contains an irritant poison that is dangerous if taken internally. It may also blister sensitive skin.

Moses-in-the-cradle (Rhoeo spathacea) is a herb which has succulent leaves that are easily broken. Their juice is a common cause of itching and rash. Purple-heart (Setcreasea purpurea) has similar symptoms.

A rash may result from contact with foliage, cuttings or trimmings of the Aralia shrub (Polyscias balfouriana).

The succulent juice of century plant (Agave americana) causes burning, itching rash and blisters. It also irritates the eyes.

A scratch from a thorn or oil from the peel of a lime tree (Citrus aurantifolia) may cause itching, brown patches on skin or blisters.

Contact with a mango tree (Mangifera indica) may cause itching, swelling or blisters. It is also a common respiratory irritant when in bloom.

Brazilian peppertree (Schinus terebinthifolious) is a common cause of fine rash, respiratory irritation, headaches and sneezing when in bloom.

Finally, seeds from queen sago (Cycas circinalis) contain cycasin which can cause vomiting and liver and kidney damage.

The summer heat leads to more exposed skin; the simple function of sweating can cause a problem.

For example, sap secreted from a cut stem can enter open pores on your face if you use the back of your hand to wipe it, which leads to itching.

Seeds can be problematic with children and animals; an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

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Published Aug 15, 2018 at 8:00 am (Updated Aug 15, 2018 at 7:05 am)

Learning the idiosyncrasies of plants

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