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Toxic Beauty: Are These Poisonous Plants Growing in Your Backyard?

Now that warmer weather is upon us, our thoughts naturally navigate to backyard fun and relaxation.  For many this means creating a pretty and peaceful landscape with garden flowers and shrubs.  However, what some backyard gardeners don't realize is that many of the common flowers, shrubs, and plants that add color and beauty to your backyard paradise are actually poisonous.

Here are a few common toxic plants that could be growing in your backyard right now.

Lantana.  Lantana yields colorful flower clusters and is often used as a hanging plant or in warmer climates, as a shrub.  It tends to become invasive over time but the biggest problem is its toxicity.  Lantana plants could mean danger to small children and pets as the leaves of the plant can cause a skin rash and the berries can be fatal when ingested.

Lily-of-the-valley.  Lily-of-the-valley has diminutive bell-shaped, white blossoms that look innocent enough . . . but in reality all parts of this plant are toxic to humans and pets.  When ingested, chemicals in the plant called cardiac glycosides can cause irregular heartbeat, diarrhea, and blurred vision.

Foxglove.  Foxglove is another beautiful but toxic plant. It grows well in dry shade, which makes it a good choice for problem areas in the backyard.  However, these flowers are among the most toxic of all backyard specimens.  The toxic reactions can range from severe illness to death in humans and animals.  To give you an idea of how potent these toxins are, the cardiac drug digitalis is produced from the foxglove plant. 

Azaleas. Azaleas belong to the Rhododendron family and make for beautiful ornamental shrubs with spectacular flowers.  However, both the flowers and the leaves of the azalea plant contain glycosides which can burn the mouth and cause nausea, vomiting, and low blood pressure.

Poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac.  These three together are responsible for most cases of allergic contact dermatitis. All three plants are characterized by leaves that grow in threes.  Poison ivy is more common in the south and southeast, while poison oak is more pervasive on the west coast.  All three contain an oil called urushiol that is found in the leaves, twigs, and roots.  Urushiol is the culprit behind the terrible itching rashes that can result from exposure to these toxic plants.

Getting rid of poisonous plants.

Once you've identified the plants growing in your back yard, you may decide it's time to get rid of the toxic ones.  In some cases pulling them up will do the trick, but for plants like poison ivy, that's not an option because it's important to get the root.  A weed killer is the best option. Some people are tempted to burn unwanted plants but that strategy could release oils and toxins into the air.

The key to enjoying a beautiful backyard is to do your homework and assess your lifestyle.  If you have small children and cats or dogs, then you may want to forsake some flowers in favor of those that are more kid and pet friendly.  With all the bounty nature provides, finding suitable plants and flowers for your backyard will be a snap.

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