Gardens are generally safe and interesting places, and children often love spending time in them. But gardens aren’t always designed with children in mind.
Supervising your child is the best way to avoid danger in the garden or anywhere else, but this isn’t always possible. This means it’s very important to make the garden safe. You can do this by avoiding growing plants that are known to be poisonous.
As a general guide, any plant with a strong smell, milky sap, red berries or self-sown seed could be poisonous and is best treated as risky. Fence off or remove any suspect plants until your child is old enough to learn not to eat strange plants (usually at around the age of three).
Highly poisonous plants: plants to destroy or remove
- Castor oil plant (Ricinus communis): this is a common self-sown weed with toxic seeds, flowers and leaves. A few seeds can be fatal to a child.
- Coral tree (Erythrina genus): the leaves, bark and seeds are poisonous. The seeds are particularly toxic for children.
- Common or pink oleander (Nerium oleander) and yellow oleander (Thevetia peruviana): every part of these shrubs, including the seeds, is poisonous. Symptoms include staggering, vomiting, diarrhoea, irregular heart action, dilated pupils and coma leading to death.
- Deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna): the attractive round purple/black berries on this plant are highly toxic.
- Rhus or wax tree (Toxicodendron succedaneum): this plant can trigger strong allergic reactions in many people, causing rashes, redness, itchiness and blisters over the course of a week or longer. Avoid contact even as a result of touching clothing or tools, or exposure to sawdust or ash. Wear protective clothing when removing the plant.
- White cedar tree (Melia azedarach): this is a native tree. Six or more fruits can be fatal.
If you or someone in your care might have been exposed to a poisonous plant, immediately call the Poisons Information Centre on 131 126 for advice (24 hours a day, 7 days a week, Australia wide).
Plants to avoid
- Angel’s trumpet (Brugmansia): the flowers, seeds and nectar are very poisonous.
- Arum lily (Zantedeschia aethiopica): all parts of the plant can cause irritation and pain in the mouth when chewed.
- Belladonna lily, naked lady (Amaryllis belladona): the sap and bulb are especially toxic to children.
- Cacti and other succulents (fleshy plants): children can cut themselves or injure their eyes on the spikes.
- Chillies: if your child pops a chilli in her mouth or touches one then rubs her eyes, it could be quite unpleasant or even painful.
- Daphne: all parts of this popular ornamental shrub are poisonous, especially the attractive berries.
- Dumb cane (Dieffenbachia): eating this plant can irritate the mouth and cause swelling, although it won’t do any permanent damage.
- Hemlock (poison parsley) and water hemlock (cowbane): these are commonly found toxic plants.
- Lantana: all parts of this flowering shrub, especially the green berries, can cause stomach pains, jaundice and muscular weakness.
- Mushrooms and toadstools: although most of the toxic species – such as death caps and the red and white fly agaric – are found in forests and parklands rather than backyards, there are many poisonous species. It’s worth clearing all mushrooms or toadstools from your yard until your child is old enough to know not to touch them.
- Poinsettia: the sap of this Christmas plant can sting or even blind.
Plants to treat with caution
- Cycads: the bright yellow and red seeds are used in bush tucker, but only after the toxins have been leached out. Fresh from the branch, they’re poisonous.
- Grevilleas (especially ‘Robyn Gordon’ and Robusta): some grevillea species can trigger itching, redness and rashes if children have an allergic reaction on contact.
- Rhubarb: all parts, especially the leaves, are poisonous (the stems are safe when cooked).
- Stick weed (Parietaria judaica): this can be associated with asthma attacks and can cause skin allergies.
- Bulbs that can be poisonous: these include agapanthus, autumn crocus, clivia, daffodil, hippeastrum, hyacinth, lily of the valley, tulips and some iris.
If you’re unsure whether the plants in your garden are safe, ask your local nursery for advice. You can also get a list of poisonous plants from your nursery or local council.