April 8, 2010 at 8:50 a.m.

Wicked plants that can harm you

Wicked plants that can harm you
Wicked plants that can harm you

Nature has provided many members of the plant kingdom with certain features to help ensure their survival. Over the centuries, many of these plants have been incorporated into our domestic gardens and are now common place and everyday additions to our vegetable and flower beds as well as potted plants in our homes. Yet, they retain the toxins and poisons meant as survival mechanisms and we, the unsuspecting humans, aren't even aware of the potential for harm to us by growing and cultivating these often beautiful, but "wicked plants'.

In 2009, English author Amy Stewart wrote a quirky little book called Wicked Plants - The Weed That Killed Lincoln's Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities. I found it to be quite enlightening especially since it talked about plants with varying degrees of harmfulness that I myself had growing in my garden with no clue as to their toxicity. Granted, many of the plants' dangerous potential could only be experienced from digesting mouthfuls of the stuff, but others need only come in mild contact with the skin to cause an uncomfortable condition. And it's not only we humans that these plants can harm, but many of our pets as well.

Most of us have eaten and enjoyed many delicacies made from rhubarb, but it's only the stalks that are safe to eat. Though the entire plant contains Oxalates, they are especially concentrated in the leaves and ingesting enough of the foliage can cause everything from nausea and vomiting to convulsions and coma. As a child I was warned to NEVER eat the rhubarb leaves and it was an important warning as almost everyone I knew had a rhubarb plant in their garden.

Yews are a common and widely used foundation and landscape shrub, but did you know that every part of the plant, except the flesh of the berry like fruit is highly toxic to humans, pets and livestock. On the other hand, yew extract has been used to develop anti-tumor drugs for fighting ovarian, breast and lung cancer.

As part of the Chisago County Master Gardener's Spring Series of classes, please join us Tuesday, April 13, from 6:30-8 p.m. for our "Wicked Plants" class to learn more about the dangerous side of plants and which one is the most dangerous plant of all.

Call the Extension office at 651-213-8901 to register for the class. The cost is $5 per person and the class will be held at the North Branch Senior Center.


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