The “Deadliest Plants”
These sinister beauties could kill you, provided you’re really, really stupid.
Beware of what you read on the internet. Some of it – including “The Grumpy Gardener,” of course – provides accurate, no-hype information you can use to better your life. And then there’s the stuff that’s just click-bait – sensationalist tripe written by some numbskull for the sole purpose of driving traffic to a website and you to hysterics.
So let’s get right to it. Did you know that many favorite ornamental plants you’ve grown for years can kill you and your entire family?
That’s the message of an article I found on a website that for legal reasons I’ll call This Ancient Abode. Some plants prized for their beauty, the story states, could be “toxic killers.”
Let’s start with a Southern icon, the French or bigleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla). “Swallowing hydrangea is like popping a cyanide pill,” says the writer, causing shortness of breath, dizziness, fainting, convulsions, and death.
Wow. Who’d want to plant that?
Next up, rhododendron, the state flower of West Virginia (which the writer misidentifies as Rhododendron ponticum, a European species, instead of the native Rhododendron maximum). “Swallow any part of this plant…and death can occur shortly after falling into a coma or during a violent seizure.”
Daffodils are the South’s favorite bulbs. One reason is that, unlike tulips, they’re poisonous to rodents and deer, so they don’t get eaten and come up reliably year after year. They’re toxic to people too. “If the scent of a narcissus bouquet in a closed room is strong enough to cause a headache, just imagine what eating an entire bulb might do,” warns the writer. “Think severe nausea, convulsions, fainting, paralysis, and eventual death. Still want to plant them?”
Grumpy planted 200 in his garden last fall. Oh my, I’m getting the vapors!
WATCH: Grumpy's Field Guide To Mushrooms
Most folks know not to eat mistletoe berries, so it’s not surprising to find mistletoe on this list (even though a parasitic plant that grows in the tops of 100-foot tall trees hardly qualifies as an ornamental). But they won’t kill you, they’ll just make you sick. Therefore, the writer advises against drinking “mistletoe-flavored tea.” Who the heck drinks mistletoe flavored tea? Especially without lemon?
Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the Federation starship U.S.S. Enterprise, that’s who. Many times, I’ve heard him walk up to the food synthesizer in his cabin and say, “Mistletoe tea. Hot.”
By now, many of you are probably thinking, “When are you going to get to the most poisonous ornamental plant of all, the poinsettia?” Yes indeedy, it made This Ancient Abode’s list. But here’s the rub. Poinsettia is not poisonous. Never has been, never will be. No human deaths have been attributed to munching on a poinsettia. E-v-e-r. Let us never again speak this untruth!
Given the fact that most of these listed plants do contain toxic chemicals, why aren’t gardeners dropping like flies? Because in order to die, you have to eat them and no one ever does! They don’t taste good. When is the last time you sat down to a scrumptious rhododendron salad?
The bottom line is if I listed every ornamental plant that’s toxic to humans when ingested, called them “deadly,” and warned against planting them, your garden would soon look like the Sahara. No apples (toxic seeds), no peaches (toxic leaves), no hollies, no azaleas, no caladiums, no oleanders, no yews, no elephant’s ears, no foxgloves, no hellebores, no irises, no lantanas, no lilies-of-the-valley, no delphiniums, no larkspurs, no lupines or bluebonnets, no nicotianas, no Madagascar periwinkles, no mayapples, no cherry laurels, no pittosporums, no Japanese andromedas, no daphnes, no Carolina jessamines, no morning glories, no lobelias, no pampas grass, no angel’s trumpets, and no mountain laurels.
May I suggest a common-sense solution to accidentally poisoning yourself in the garden? Don’t eat ornamental plants!