Poisonous Garden Plants: Daffodils, Lantana and Euphorbia
It's surprising how many common garden plants actually have poisonous parts. You won't necessarily die from being poisoned, but it's important to know which plants are in this category and what to do about it if you find strange things happening after contact with them.
I've written a number of articles about poisonous plants. A number of them are listed at the bottom of this page for your information, so that you can learn more about them and also identify them from the photographs.
Daffodils, narcissi and jonquils (which are all members of the daffodil family) are mildly toxic if the bulbs are eaten in large quantities—some people confuse them for onions.
All parts are poisonous, but especially the bulbs. Daffodils contain poisonous alkaloids called narcitine and narcicysteine.
Abdominal pains, cramps, vomiting, nausea, lightheadedness, shivering, and diarrhea.
Intravenous hydration and/or drugs to stave off nausea and vomiting if symptoms are severe or the patient is a child.
If the berries are ingested, lantana is highly toxic and possibly fatal. You might not be tempted, but watch out for children and pets eating them.
Having said that, however, I did in fact eat the ripe berries as a child, with no ill effects whatsoever.
Green, unripened berries and leaves.
Vomiting, diarrhea, dilated pupils, trouble breathing and the leaves may be a skin irritant. As a skin irritant, lantana causes only mild and/or short-term irritation.
Wear Gloves and Avoid Ingesting Any Sap
When dealing with any of these plants, it's important to wear special gardening gloves (particularly if you have sensitive skin), and don't lick your fingers after touching their sap.
My Own Experience of Lantana (Cherry Pie)
When I was a child, we lived in Africa. We had a big garden, divided up by a long and tall cherry pie hedge. The flowers were mauve and yellow, followed by green berries which ripened into delicious little black berries. I regularly used to pick and eat them straight from the bush, like you do with regular blackberries. The taste was aromatic, and sweet, a bit like blackberries or blueberries, but with a slightly more pungent smell and flavour. The texture was similar, though the berries were a lot smaller. The smell is in my nostrils as I write this.
I'm not sure that my mother knew, but she certainly didn't stop me. Maybe a gentle admonition, but nothing very meaningful or forceful. Poisonous berries? I don't think so—or maybe I am invincible! I certainly never suffered any ill effects whatsoever. And yet, according to my recent research, I could be dead. Mind you, it was the black sweet berries I was eating, and not the green, unripened ones.
So it seems I am lucky to be alive and writing this article.
There are more than one hundred species of euphorbia, or spurge. In all of these species, the juice or sap is so acrid that it may corrode and ulcerate the skin after any contact.
All species of euphorbia or spurge contain a more-or-less poisonous, acrid milky juice. Contact with the skin causes extreme irritation, inflammation, ulceration, and in some cases gangrene.
If swallowed, it may be fatal.
The caper spurge (E. lathyrus) contains an acrid, emetic, and highly purgative milky juice, and the fruits have commonly been employed by country folk as a purge.
If ingested (swallowed), spurges have an irritating effect on the mucous membrane, especially at the back of the mouth. Around 45–120 minutes after eating the plant, or even longer, there is painful vomiting, followed by diarrhea and low temperature. If the quantity ingested has been sufficient, there will also be nervous symptoms, vertigo, delirium, muscular tremors, circulatory troubles and abundant sweating.
In addition there may be loss of appetite, colic, tympanites, bloating, fever, palpitation of the heart and loss of consciousness. In a fatal dose, the symptoms of superpurgation and enteritis predominate, but are accompanied by nervous symptoms and circulatory disorders.
The advice of a physician should be requested immediately.
Keep an Eye on Your Children and Pets in the Garden
Make sure they never eat or play with daffodils, lantana or euphorbia.
When I lived in Africa, we had a poinsettia tree in the garden. It was so beautiful. The red "flowers" are actually leaf bracts and not flowers at all—and they may also be orange, cream, pink or pale green. The shrub grows to a height between 2–16 feet and bears large leaves. If grown outside, it does best in a subtropical climate where there is no frost, and it has very specific light and dark requirements before it will produce its brightly coloured bracts.
Poinsettia originates from South America. The Aztecs extracted red dye from it and used it as an herbal medicine similar to aspirin and ibuprofen to reduce fever.
Unlike other members of the spurge family, which may be highly toxic, poinsettia is only mildly toxic. It may be a skin or stomach irritant, sometimes causing diarrhea and vomiting if eaten, or a skin allergy to anyone sensitive to latex. If sap goes into the eye, it may cause temporary blindness.
Have you ever been poisoned by contact with a poisonous plant?
Read About More Poisonous Plants in This Series
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.