Toxic Beauties: A Guide to The Pretty But Poisonous Plants Lurking in Your Yard

PamPenick
Published on November 3rd 2020
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Daffodils
Many of us are opting for toxic-free products when it comes to our skincare, beauty and cleaning supplies, but just because something is labeled as natural or plant-based doesn't necessarily mean it's harmless. Whether you're growing edibles, experimenting with DIY skincare products or just want to let your kids or pets explore the garden without giving you a panic attack, it's worth knowing which plants are toxic when ingested.
It might surprise you, but many potentially unsafe plants are in fact popular ornamentals. Since poisonous plants don’t come labeled with a skull-and-crossbones warning, it’s useful to know about the toxic properties of plants in your yard. That way you can pass on that knowledge to children, who from a young age should be taught never to put leaves, branches, seeds, or berries in their mouths (except for those in the vegetable garden that they’ve been taught are safe). And if you have a pet that just can't resist nibbling or gnawing on your plants, it's definitely worth researching what goes in your borders.
But keep in mind that accidental poisoning from garden plants is uncommon, especially compared to the many accidental poisonings (around 300 children per day in the U.S., according to the CDC) from ingesting cleaning liquids, detergent pods, medications, and other common household products.
Here are some popular but poisonous plants you might be surprised to discover you’re already growing. Enjoy these toxic beauties, and remember, they can’t hurt you if you don’t nosh on them.

Sacred datura (Datura wrightii)

Sacred Datura
This native plant of the U.S. Southwest is frequently grown in moonlight gardens for its fragrant, night-blooming, showy white flowers. Native Americans used datura to make a ceremonial hallucinogen, but never try this at home. All parts of the plant are extremely poisonous, and ingesting leaves or seeds or drinking tea made from datura can prove deadly.

Sago palm (Cycas revoluta)

This bold-leaved, palm-like plant is commonly grown outdoors in the Lower South and as a houseplant elsewhere. Every part of the plant is toxic to both humans and pets and can cause liver failure.

Lantana (Lantana spp.)

A popular flowering perennial in hot climates and an annual in cooler climates, lantana produces small berries, green turning blue-black, that are extremely toxic to humans and pets. The leaves have toxic properties too. Enjoy the flowers, but leave the berries to the birds.

Daffodil (Narcissus spp.)

Daffodils
Deer and rodents shun daffodils, which makes them a great garden plant. However, all parts of this pretty, yellow-flowering spring bulb are poisonous. The onion-like bulb contains the highest concentration of toxins, which can cause stomach upset or even liver damage if large quantities are ingested.

Texas mountain laurel (Sophora secundiflora)

Texas Mountain Laurel
Red seeds resembling brightly colored beads drop to the ground from this highly ornamental tree that thrives in the dry, alkaline soils of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. The seeds can be fatal if chewed and swallowed, but they are very hard, and intact they generally pass through the digestive tract without harm.

Yew (Taxus spp.)

This attractive evergreen is widely planted across the U.S., despite leaves and berries that are highly toxic if eaten. Domesticated animals may be tempted to browse it, so keep away from horses and cattle.

Oleander (Nerium oleander)

A highly ornamental flowering shrub throughout the U.S. South and Southwest, oleander is also deadly. Ingesting even one leaf can kill a child. However, it’s known to have a particularly unpleasant taste, and incidents of accidental poisoning are rare.

Lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis)

This shade-loving perennial is beloved for its nodding, bell-shaped white flowers. All parts are toxic to people and pets and can cause an irregular heartbeat and pulse.

Rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum)

You may be surprised to see rhubarb on this list since it’s commonly grown by vegetable gardeners for its stalks, which can be cooked with sugar and made into a tasty pie. Eating the spinach-like leaves, however, can lead to kidney stones or even kidney failure. However, it would require a tremendously large helping, so you're probably safe!
Photos: © Pam Penick

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