Baneberry, Deadly nightshade, Lambkill… As their folk names suggest, many seemingly innocent plants are a real hazard to babes in the woods. Thankfully, most modern-day foragers have read enough Euell Gibbons to avoid dining on toxic fare, but how many gardeners have done their homework? The number of poisonous plants commonly grown in Canadian backyards may surprise you. Worse, it may also surprise your pets.
Rare is the pet owner who hasn’t found ways to protect prized plants from rambunctious fetching, methodical digging and other normal animal behaviours. Unfortunately, it’s also normal for cats and dogs to chew on long grass and other greenery whenever they get the chance. To ensure that poisonous plants aren’t on the menu, all gardeners with pets (not to mention young children or visiting grandkids) should poison-proof their gardens.
Curiosity may indeed get the cat (or dog) that eats something it shouldn’t this summer. The average backyard is rife with miscellaneous hazards such as cocoa mulch, citronella candles, fertilizers and anything that’s been sprayed with garden chemicals. If you can, keep your pets out of the vegetable garden, and beware the compost pile, too, where pets may delve into such nonos as decomposing kitchen scraps, onions, grapes and apple seeds.
“Curiosity may indeed get the cat (or dog) that eats something it shouldn’t this summer.”
Take the time to identify all trees, shrubs and plants in your garden, earmarking those that are toxic. The most dangerous specimens should be disposed of, or at least transplanted to an area that is less accessible. For instance, you don’t want a dog run (or children’s play area) to be bordered by a hedge of hydrangea which, though beautiful and sturdy, also contains a strong, cyanide-type poison which, once ingested, causes oxygen-starvation symptoms, including death, to occur very rapidly.
Likewise, if you’re a cat person, you may want to reconsider the presence of lilies in your garden. Even a small nibble from the leaf of a Liliaceae (such as the Easter lily, tiger lily, Asiatic lily, Gloriosa lily, even the daylily), can cause death by kidney failure.
What if you catch your pet in the act? Before you panic, take a closer look at what Fido was eating, as some plants have both edible and toxic component parts (sound strange? Consider that humans can eat rhubarb stems, tomato fruits and potato tubers, despite their toxic foliage).
You can’t watch outdoor pets all the time, but you can remain on the lookout for the first signs of accidental poisoning, including vomiting, a depressed attitude, sudden loss of appetite, or glazed eyes. If you suspect intoxication, act quickly. Call your veterinarian’s emergency number, a 24-hour veterinary hospital or your local SPCA. If you’re stuck, try calling the hotline of the American SPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center, which serves all of North America 24 hours a day, every day of the year (tel. 1 888 426-4435).
Least Wanted List
A starter list of noxious perennials, annuals, bulbs, vines, shrubs and trees often grown in Canadian gardens
- Autumn crocus (Colchicum autumnale)
- Azalea (Rhododendron spp) all parts.
- Castor bean, a.k.a. castor oil plant (Ricinus communis) all parts, especially seeds
- Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana) leaves and pits
- Christmas rose (Helleborus niger)
- Daffodil (Narcissus spp.) bulbs
- Daylily (Hemerocallis spp.)
- Elderberry (Sambucus ) all parts except berries
- Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea)
- Holly (Ilex verticillata) berries
- Horsechestnut (Aesculus spp.) nuts & sprouts
- Hyacinth bulbs
- Jimsonweed, thornapple, angel’s trumpet (Datura spp.)
- Larkspur (Consolida ajacis)
- Lily (Lilium spp.)
- Lily of the valley (Convollaria majalis)
- Lupine (Lupinus spp.) seeds
- Monkshood (Aconitum napellus)
- Morning glory (Ipomoea spp.) seeds & roots
- Oak (Quercus spp.) leaves
- Tulip bulbs
- Yew (Taxus baccata)
More than 40 years ago, in 1976, James Lawrence pasted together the first edition of Harrowsmith magazine on his kitchen table in rural Ontario. Totally unique, it was the first Canadian magazine to focus on organic living, alternative energy sources, and a country lifestyle. Lawrence’s ode to back-to- the-land virtues quickly attracted legions of fans and soon became Canada’s bible for rural living.