Local lifestyle columnists

Behind a beautiful garden, dangers can lurk

By From page C4 | September 08, 2013

FAIRFIELD — Gardens are places of beauty, tranquility and pleasure. They can provide recreation and nourish our spirits as well as our stomachs. But they can also be deadly.

Just as most homes have electricity, most gardens have plants and creatures that can be lethal. But like electricity, knowing the dangers can help keep you safe. For example, we know not to stick our fingers in light sockets or use electrical appliances in the bathtub to prevent being electrocuted. Knowledge is also the key to preventing your garden from harming you.

Toxic plants

As adults, we don’t indiscriminately eat plants, leaves or things we find on the ground. But the same cannot be said for young children. And it only takes a second for a toddler to ingest something he or she shouldn’t.

According to a document on the California Poison Control website, plants are a major cause of poisoning for children under 6. The University of California Department of Agricultural and Natural Resources website lists hundreds of toxic plants, shrubs and trees that can cause serious illness and death when ingested. Many are commonly found in Solano County gardens.

Below are a few examples of toxic plants:

Anthurium (Anthurium spp.)

Azalea (Rhododendron spp.)

Delphinium (Delphinium spp.)

Hydrangea (Hydrangea spp.)

Lantana (Lantanna camara)

Larkspur (Delphinium spp.)

Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis)

Myrtle (Vinca spp.)

Oleander (Nerium oleander)

Periwinkle (Vinca spp.)

Rhododendron (Rhododendron spp.)

Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia)

Vinca (Vinca spp.)

For the full list of toxic plants, visit the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources website at

And if you have young children, California Poison Control has a 121 page PDF document titled “Know Your Plants” on its website www.calpoison.org/public/home.html.

It contains information on what to do in cases of suspected plant poisoning, and a lengthy list of nontoxic and toxic plants.


Assume any wild mushrooms you find growing are poisonous. Unlike the mushrooms found in other places, most of the wild mushrooms you’ll find growing in your yard or in open areas of the state are poisonous. It’s simply not worth risking your life consuming them.


If you live near or in open space, a poisonous rattlesnake may slither through your garden. Be alert and don’t assume that a snake that doesn’t have a rattle on its tail isn’t a rattlesnake. The rattle may be missing as a result of either animal or human interaction. If you’re unsure exactly what they look like, check out www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn74119.html.

Harmful Insects

Insects are an important part of our environment. But caution should be used with some insects in your garden. Some insect bites and stings can be harmful to humans.
The venom of bees and wasps contain a toxin. A bee sting usually causes only temporary pain. But a small percentage of the population is allergic to bee stings. Allergic reactions can range from hives or nausea to life threatening reactions such as shock or difficulty breathing.

Consult your doctor if you suspect you are allergic to bee stings. 
And while a single bee sting may not be lethal, multiple bee or wasp stings could be dangerous, especially to children or those with weakened immune systems. The greater number of stings, the larger the dose of toxins injected into the body. Multiple bee stings are generally not life threatening to healthy adults, but can cause illness.

The best way to avoid being stung is not to disturb the bees or their nest.
 Ant bites can also be painful. Some ants, such as the harvester ant (Pogonomyrmex) posses more toxin than common household ants. Like bee stings, a single ant bite just causes brief minor pain. But depending upon the type of ant, multiple bites have the potential to cause serious health problems.

Technically not an insect, the poisonous black widow spider (Latrodectus hesperus) will sometimes weave their web in plants. However, they’re more likely to be found in dark, undisturbed places like wood piles.

Wearing garden gloves will help protect you from spider bites.

More information about garden insects and creatures can be found at www.ipm.ucdavis.edu. Knowing your garden minimizes any risk of danger. Like other aspects of life, be aware of the potential dangers, but enjoy your garden!

Kathy Low is a Master Gardener with the University of California Cooperative Extension office in Fairfield. If you have gardening questions, call the Master Gardener’s office at 784-1322.

Kathy Low


Discussion | 1 comment

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  • Rich GiddensSeptember 08, 2013 - 4:55 pm

    Very good! There's been poisoning cases where adults stupidly used oleander sticks to cook hotdogs with at a camp site fire not realizing oleander plant parts are lethal. Another contributory cause are homeowners or tenants who won't lift a finger to clean their yards and homes or who delibertly horde debris, trash and detritus in their yards. That attracts not only insects but rodents and marsupials. I have neighbors like that and its very annoying to have neighbors who won't lift a finger. You should see some of the properties wev'e seen in Suisun that are overlooked by the authorities. Gross!

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