Killers in the Garden: Toxic Landscaping Plants

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Through trial and error, our Stone Age ancestors learned to avoid plants that are poisonous—a lesson that should not be forgotten in this modern age.

While serious poisoning from garden plants is rare in more developed countries, it is nevertheless a risk. Failure to adhere to some fairly straightforward guidelines regarding common flowers and vegetables could lead to poisoning, skin rashes, allergic reactions or, in the worst case scenario, death.

Following are some of the most toxic plants that are commonly found in gardens, as well as the possible side effects associated with touching or ingesting them.


Buttercups are harmless looking flowers that can be found in most people’s gardens. The sap, flowers, seeds, and leaves of buttercups, however, contain a powerful toxin, called “glycoside.”

Glycosides are toxins which can cause irritation and blistering of the skin when touched. Gardening enthusiasts should, therefore, always make sure they wear protective gloves to avoid such irritation.

This is where the danger usually ends with buttercups. If one were to swallow a buttercup, however, serious complications could occur, including a burning sensation in the mouth and digestive tract, promptly followed by nausea and convulsions.


When it comes to poisonous plants in the garden, humans are not the only ones that are in danger; plant toxicity can have fatal consequences for animals, too.

Ragwort, defined as an “injurious weed” in the Weeds Act 1959, is the most fatal plant that an animal can ingest. Identified by its flat heads of daisy like clusters of yellow flowers, which sprout white seeds that are spread rapidly by the wind, ragwort remains harmful to animals even after it has been treated, wilted, cut or pulled.

Given ragwort’s resilience, it must be dug up, roots and all, in order to remove the threat; otherwise re-growth is inevitable.


The distinctive, and visually stunning, blue larkspur flowers make an attractive addition to any garden. Their inherent toxicity, however, does have potentially fatal consequences, if ingested.

Larkspurs contain a large number of potent alkaloids, a chemical which if ingested, by eating the flowers or seeds, can cause digestion problems, nervous excitement, depression and, in a worst case scenario, it can be fatal.


Rhubarb is plant commonly found in gardens around the world. While rhubarb stalks can be delicious when included in pies or jams, their leaves, whether cooked or eaten raw, can be poisonous.

Rhubarb leaves contain oxalic acid, also found in a number of cleaning products, as well as anthraquinone glycosides, which can poison the body, if consumed in large enough quantities. Eating large amounts of rhubarb leaves could, conceivably, result in convulsions, vomiting, a coma or even death.

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