May 9, 2016

Know what to do if your child or pet eats a poisonous plant.


April showers bring May flowers, but some of those blooms have a sinister side. Denese Britt, BSN, M.S., CSPI, of the Tennessee Poison Center, gives us a refresher on potentially poisonous plants and what to do if our kids or pets accidentally mistake them for snacks.

“Many are considered poisonous,” Britt says of spring’s blossoms. “However, the good news is that the majority of the time, very little of the plant is ingested, so there are usually very mild symptoms — if at all.”

The biggest concern with eating a poisonous plant is the choking hazard, Britt explains. The child will take a bite, not chew it properly and choke.

Several plants can cause reactions, however. View this guide from Alabama A&M and Auburn University for a complete list of poisonous plants in the Southeastern United States.

Here, we review the most common potentially poisonous plants you might have in or around your yard.


Berries of concern

Pokeweed, which blooms any time from May to October, has a thick purple stalk and dark purple berries. If your child eats enough berries, he or she may get an upset stomach. “Fortunately, these berries are not very palatable, so only one or two get eaten,” Britt says.


Flowers of concern

Oleander, lily of the valley, rhododendron and foxglove are cardiac glycosides, which could affect the heart, Britt says. “However, if a child picked one flower and ate it, this is unlikely to cause any issues.” Angel’s trumpet can have a hallucinogenic effect.


Poisonous to pets

Dogs who eat azaleas or rhododendrons may develop nausea, vomiting or an unsteady gait. When ingested, plants of the lily family, especially Easter lilies — which if planted in the ground in Middle Tennessee will bloom in July — can cause vomiting, anorexia and renal failure in cats.


What should I do if my child has ingested a potentially poisonous plant?

Call the Poison Center (800-222-1222). This hotline is free and staffed 24/7. A poison specialist will ask the parent or caregiver a series of questions about the incident and provide instructions. “The vast majority of the time, the child will be able to stay home,” Britt says. “It would be a very rare occurrence that would require a visit to the emergency room.”


What do I do if my pet has ingested a potentially poisonous plant?

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) has an Animal Poison Control Center. Call the hotline (888-426-4435), which is available 24/7. However, you will be charged $65 for the call.