Nine months old, and he’s on the move! My son has learned how to crawl and cruise, and I’m knee-deep in baby-proofing our home. As a parent, it’s my job to be one step ahead of him. While Lane isn’t walking yet, those first steps are right around the corner – and I’m constantly thinking of ways to protect him from harm, both indoors and out.
Children may be attracted to azaleas’ beautiful flowers, so watch them carefully around these plants – all parts of them are poisonous.
Photo Credit: Lee Ivy
Watch out for poison ivy year-round. The plant can cause toxic reactions no matter what stage it’s in – whether it’s got new growth or has gone dormant in winter.
Photo Credit: Donna W. Moramarco
Dressed in lovely crimson for fall, these Virginia creeper leaves won’t harm you – but the berries will if you eat them.
Photo Credit: Gerald L. Klingaman
Raw acorns are poisonous if eaten, so let’s leave them for the squirrels.
Photo Credit: Sarah L. Ivy
It’s hard to tell which mushrooms are poisonous – it’s best to just get yours from the grocery.
Photo Credit: Sarah Landicho
If you’ve ever been around babies, you know that anything within arm’s reach is fair game for mouthing. (Heck, even older kids sometimes chew on things without giving much thought of it!) And no matter how careful we may be, it’s hard to completely control exactly what goes in their mouths – and that includes plant parts.
While severe reactions from plant poisons are rare, poisonous plants are best avoided altogether when you have children or pets. It’s important for anyone who has children in their care – parents, grandparents, day care providers, etc. – to identify any hazardous plants they may have in their yard and be vigilant about watching the kids when they play around them.
I look forward to taking walks and exploring nature with my son someday, but I want him to be safe along our way. So I’ve made a list of the top common plants and fungi I plan to teach Lane to identify and avoid.
First on my list are azaleas (Rhododendron). These amazing shrubs are popular flowering favorites, and for good reason – they’re gorgeous. Grownups and kids alike are drawn to the blooms, but beware: All parts of this beauty are poisonous! While deer love them and are no worse for the wear, we two-legged types need to avoid ingesting any part of them. So it’s just best that your kiddies learn to look at azaleas with their eyes and not with their hands!
As for this next group of plants, I think the names say it all: poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac (Toxicodendron). As the old saying goes: “Leaves of three, let them be!” That means avoid touching these guys with any bare skin. Poison ivy is commonly found in the woods throughout the US and can be very poisonous if touched, causing a severe reaction wherever any of the plant’s toxic sap makes contact with skin. You’ll get the same result by touching poison oak and poison sumac. (These two shrubs are more commonly found in the West.)
If you live near a wooded area, it’s a good idea to learn what all three of these poisonous plants look like throughout all four seasons, because all parts of these plants are toxic, even when dormant. A common poison ivy look-alike is Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus), although this plant has five leaflets instead of three, and it isn’t poisonous to the touch. But still be beware of its berries – they’re highly toxic if eaten.
This next one may surprise you because squirrels make them look so tasty. But, yes – watch out for the acorn from the mighty oak (Quercus). These nuts are poisonous if eaten raw! A lot of children have fun gathering fallen acorns – just make sure they’re not nibbling on them like the squirrels! Kids should learn that the acorn is one nut best left to the animals.
And the final common poisonous plant on my list isn’t really a plant at all, but rather a fungus: the lowly mushroom. There are a ton of different kinds of mushrooms out there, but only about 1-2 percent are actually poisonous. That said, the odds of being affected by “the wrong” mushroom are low, but that doesn’t mean you should feast on them at random! Toxic mushrooms are fairly difficult to identify, and who wants to take a chance with poisoning symptoms that range from minor stomach upset to death? With that in mind, it’s best to just avoid wild mushrooms completely and get your fungi from the grocery!
Of course, these toxic offenders are just a very few of the many plants and organisms that can cause harm to curious kids and adults (and even pets). While there’s certainly no need to sound the alarms and banish these plants completely from your yard, a healthy awareness of any potential danger goes a long way in protecting you and your loved ones.
So take a look around your yard to see if there are any plants that could cause a threat to your family members, and consider labeling those offenders so your children can identify which plants to avoid. And hey, if you teach them which ones to stay away from (and why), they’re likely to spread the word! (We all know how much kids like to share…)