Herself's Houston Garden

Conservation through cultivation

Toxic Plants

One of the first things I noticed as a gardener down here was that every plant had thorns, or was toxic or both. It’s a harsh environment.

A few months back I had the pleasure of attending ‘Murderous Plants and Poisonous Herbs’ talk given by Barney Lipscomb. If you have a chance to see it, don’t miss the talk.

It started me thinking more about what makes a plant toxic and which plants are toxic. So I’ll be digging into all sorts of cool information about toxicity, plants, and poison for a bit. I’ve a huge stack of books on toxic plants piled on my desk and a longer list of websites to dig through. Homeland Security should be showing up any day now. I’ll try to get these written before they come take me away.

Unintentional death by poison happens to about 8 people per 100,000 per year. In 2005 23,618 people were died from accidental poison. While that does not sound like much, poisoning death rates have doubled from 1985-2004. Death by poison is second only motor vehicle deaths in accidental death totals nationwide.

Accidental death by poison mostly occurs in people 15 to 65 years of age. If you are between 34-53 you are more likely to die by poison then in a motor vehicle wreck.

As with any substance, ‘The dose makes the poison’. Water can kill you if there is enough of it to prevent you from breathing, or if you drink enough to upset your body chemistry.

Toxic doses are measured in LD 50, which refers to the dose will kill 50% of the healthy adults who are exposed to it. ( LD Lethal Dose )

Somewhere around 700 known toxic plants grow in the United States.

Should you ever need immediate help or have a question about a poison, call 1-800-222-1222. If you have come into contact with a substance you are not sure about, keep some handy for identification or at the very least take a photo. Treatment depends on proper identification.

How do accidental poisons happen? Most of them occur in hospitals when the wrong medicine or dose is given to a patient. In the world outside it is from misidentified plants. Know your plants. Google image search is great for finding plant names. But use a trust but verify method. I’ve seen many misnamed on the web. Find your plant, then verify, it is the correct name for the plant using another source.

More information:
Common Poisonous Plants
SciAm: Strange but true: Drinking too much water can kill