Many parents can't tell nasturtium from nightshade but knowing the local flora can make a difference if a child is tempted to taste the brightly colored flowers and plump berries that delight the eye in summer.
Exposure to toxic plants is reported more often than spider and snake bites or ingestion of such common household supplies as furniture polish or paint thinner. Children are more likely to sample berries, leaves and stems than they are to swallow small toys or coins. While relatively few plants, if eaten, can seriously harm a child, some are highly toxic.
"Pokeberries eaten in large amounts can cause a severe reaction," says Lifespan poison expert Kim Capes. Ingesting more than 10 berries can cause vomiting, diarrhea and dehydration. Yew seeds are not toxic, but biting into the pits, Capes says, "releases a dangerous chemical" that can poison a child. In a highly publicized poisoning case, jimsonweed, a common weed that has a distinctive, trumpet-shaped, purple blossom, was the culprit that hospitalized three Tiverton eighth-graders who had eaten seeds of the plant, which is also known as devil's trumpet.
Jimsonweed is so toxic that contact with the plant can have immediate, frightening consequences, including increased heart rate and hallucinations. Children should also be taught to avoid poison ivy, oak and sumac and stinging nettle. Poison ivy, oak and sumac contain a resin that causes an itchy, painful rash; the small hairs or spines on the leaves of stinging nettle contain histamines that can cause mild to severe allergic reactions.
Prevention and treatment tips: protect your kids