Poisonous Plants

Do you know which plants are poisonous?

We can all name a few poisonous plants, and possibly even identify them, but many of them will come as a surprise. Perfectly safe plants may be wrongly considered poisonous; particularly if your child has just eaten some. There is room for us all to increase our knowledge of which plants are poisonous.

Book

Poisonous Plants – a guide for parents and childcare providers. Author: Elizabeth A. Dauncey; Published by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, 2010.

The largest group at risk from poisonous plants are children under the age of 5. They spend time around plants in homes, gardens, parks and the countryside. This accessible guidebook provides important information for anyone responsible for keeping children safe: parents and other childcare providers such as childminders, nurseries and grandparents. In addition, educators, medics, sellers of plants and flowers, gardeners and those responsible for plants in public places will find this to be an invaluable resource. It will enable you to assess the potential risks posed to children by toxic plants and provides ideas for designing and planting a safe environment.

Helpful descriptions and more than 230 photographs will assist you in identifying 132 of the most poisonous plants and plant groups likely to be encountered as pot plants, in flower beds and vegetable plots, and in more natural environments. The toxins contained in each plant (especially in plant parts that are attractive to children) and the likely symptoms should they be inadvertently touched or eaten are explained. An illustrated section includes some of the most commonly eaten low-toxicity berries.

Buying a Plant

When you go to your local garden centre to choose plants for your house or garden, look carefully at the labels. As well as telling you things like the name of the plant, how big it will grow, and how much sun it likes, you may also see a warning if the plant is poisonous. For example, labels for the common houseplant dumbcane (Dieffenbachia) should say “CAUTION toxic if eaten/ skin and eye irritant”.

Kew worked with toxicologists to compile detailed reports on the toxicity of cultivated plants, and following discussions with the Horticultural Trades Association (HTA) and the Royal Horticultural Society, a list of plants that should carry warnings was produced. To view this list and the label warnings, see The HTA List of Potentially Harmful Plants (pdf).

Poisonous Plants – a guide for parents and childcare providers (see above) is the first book to illustrate and describe the toxicity of all the 117 plants on the HTA’s list of potentially harmful plants and includes the HTA’s risk code for each one.

Poisoning Enquiries

Cases of suspected poisoning, and questions about the toxicity of plants, are routinely handled by the enquiry service of Economic Botany.
Urgent cases - During weekday office hours we endeavour to provide a telephone advice service for urgent poisoning case enquiries. Please telephone Kew's central phone line on 020 8332 5000, stating whether the enquiry concerns a plant or a fungus (mushroom/toadstool).
Non-urgent cases - We welcome information about plant poisoning cases as very few are formally published. If you would like to tell us about a non-urgent recent or old case of plant poisoning following contact with a plant or after eating it, please print out this questionnaire and post it to the address below. Any information we receive will be treated in total confidence.

General enquiries – Any general enquiries about plant toxicity should be addressed in writing to:
Economic Botany, Sustainable Uses Group
Jodrell Laboratory
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
Richmond
Surrey, TW9 3AE
Email: plant-poisons@kew.org