Poisonous garden beauties

A typical garden such as mine is usually full of enchanting scents and heavenly tastes. Unfortunately, it can also contain a few poisonous plants that look like an angel but pack a deadly punch, sort of like the way Pamela Anderson was in Barbed Wire. Most people are shocked to find out that some of their favorite plants passed along from grandma’s garden are among the most toxic plants. I know I was. However, it doesn’t have to mean that we should avoid growing these plants simply because they contain toxins (and very easily can kill us). I think we need to know which plants are poisonous and take some safety precautions. Here is a list of the most common poisonous garden beauties: ‘Angel’s trumpet (Datura/Brugmansia spp.) is a member of nightshade family with beautiful yellow, white or pink trumpet-shaped blooms. The seeds of Angel’s trumpet are poisonous, containing alkaloids commonly used as narcotics. The leaves of this plant were used for treating asthma. However, even in small amounts, the leaves of Angel’s trumpet can cause severe hallucinations. It is reported that the soldiers in Jamestown, Va., (in 1676) ate the leaves of D. stramonium, a native species with disastrous results. Today, D. stramonium is known as Jamestown or Jimson weed. ‘Wisteria (Wisteria spp.) is a beautiful vine belonging to the pea family. It is simply breathtaking when in full bloom. The flowers come in pink, purple, blue or white colors. All parts of wiseria vines are poisonous to humans as well as animals. ‘Foxglove (Digitalis spp.) belongs to a group of biennials and perennials common to cottage gardens. The genus is named for the Latin word “finger” because of the shape of the flowers. The common name alludes to the belief that a fox, wearing the flowers on its paws, could become invisible and raid the chicken house unnoticed. All parts of the plant are toxic and potentially harmful to people. However, foxgloves are also used in conventional medicine. Digitalis, a popular heart medication, is extracted from foxgloves. ‘Sweet pea (Laythyrus spp.) is a member of the pea family in cutting gardens. Sweet peas are annuals that climb to 6 to 8 feet on fences and other supports. The fragrant flowers are pink, white, red, lavender and purple. All parts, especially the seeds, are poisonous to horses and rodents. ‘Lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis) has been called the queen of the groundcovers. It is a shade-loving perennial with fragrant creamy white or pink flowers. There is a belief that transplanting this plant will bring death to the family within a year. What isn’t a myth is that all parts of lily of the valley are lethal to both humans and pets. To recognize the poisonous plants in the garden is the first step in safeguarding yourself and family. It is even more crucial to teach children that they should never eat anything from the garden without checking with a responsible adult first. Feri Khatib is a research scientist in the pharmaceutical industry and resides in New Market, Maryland. Her e-mail address is Feri@BookHands.com

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