How Do You Know if a Plant Is Poisonous?
- Picking out poisonous versus non-poisonous foliage presents a particular challenge because many vines and leaves look very similar. Buy a plant field guide book to help you identify which species you can touch and which ones to avoid. It's easy to brush up against plants while hiking or camping in the woods, so always use caution. One of the most common types is poison ivy; it grows 10 feet or taller and climbs on trees, but this vine can also create a blanket across the forest floor. It has hairy, aerial roots and stems that have three leaflets on each stem. The foliage has a light to medium green color and is oval-shaped with pointed tips. The Virginia creeper looks similar to poison ivy, but this plant usually has five leaflets on each stem and sometimes it produces blue or black berries. Poison oak has oak-like or heart-shaped deep green foliage and upright stems. The nettle plant has stinging heart-shape leaves that slope forward.
- Sometimes you can identify a toxic plant by it's scent, but not always. Don't rely on scent alone. Combine identifying characteristics in addition to scent when referring to a field guide manual. Some toxic plants may give off a strong weedy odor; one such variety is poison hemlock. Many types of poisons plants give off a foul odor, but some types such as nettles have such a light scent that it may not seem offensive.
Learn About Plants
- The fruits or flowers of many garden plants pose no threat, but the stems, leaves, seeds or other parts can cause problems. For instance, the leafy blade on rhubarb and beet foliage should not be consumed. Many types of fruit such as peaches, apples, plums, pears and nectarines are safe to eat, but don't eat the stems, seeds, bark or foliage from the
tree. Most types of garden flowers and wildflowers growing in the forest contain toxins within the petals. These plants usually don't cause a reaction when you touch them, but you shouldn't eat any type of flower unless you know the species is edible.
- Sometimes accidental exposure happens if you fall into a bush of poison oak or another dangerous plant. The reaction itself can help you realize that the plant is poisonous, so remove yourself or family from the area and get treatment right away. Over-the-counter itch relief or poison oak treatments can work well, but some people and even children develop severe dermatitis or hives, requiring a visit to the doctor or emergency room. Avoid scratching your skin because this can make the rash spread and possibly cause infection if you break your skin. Symptoms may show up within a few hours or take several days to appear. Other reactions include blistering, burning or swelling. According to the University of Florida, individuals vary in their sensitivity to plants and about 25 percent of the population is not sensitive, but in time, increased exposure can elevate sensitivity.