by Larry Williams, UF/IFAS Extension Agent
Many landscape plants produce colorful berries during fall and winter and some children may be tempted to eat them.
Quick steps should be taken when a child eats unidentified berries. First, the plant from which the berries came from must be identified. If the plant is unfamiliar, contact someone who can identify it as soon as possible. Those who could be helpful inlcude your local nursery or garden center, UF/IFAS County Extension Office or a knowledgeable gardener.
Florida has Poison Control Centers that can be reached by calling 1-800-222-1222. Their website if http://floridapoisoncontrol.org. The centers maintain a data base of poisonous plants and provide recommendations once the berries have been identified.
If poisoning is suspected, consult a physician or the poison control center of your hospital immediately. Take as good an example of the plant and berries as you can to the treatment center. Correct identification is important so that the nature of the toxic substances and the effective treatments can be determined. Take a branch with several leaves, flowers and fruits (berries). It’s better to have too large a sample than one that is too small to be identified.
The relative toxicity of plant species vary considerably. Some species are safe, some will make you sick and some are lethal. Following are some poisonous berries that are common in our landscapes.
- Mistletoe berries contain toxic proteins that have caused deaths of humans and livestock. Severe symptoms begin occurring one to two hours after ingestion.
- Holly berries contain an unknown toxin, with some species said to promote vomiting and diarrhea.
- Some varieties of lantana bear green berries that are very toxic. Poisoning in humans, including a death in Tampa, have resulted from children eating the green berries.
- Ligustrum, also known as privet, bears black berries that have caused the death of several people in Europe.
- All parts of the Chinaberry tree are poisonous. The ripe fruit is more toxic than the unripe fruit. Deaths due to eating the berries have resulted in both humans and livestock.
- Both cherry laurel and wild black cherry can cause cyanide poisoning if eaten.
- All parts of English and Algerian Ivy, especially the berries, are extremely poisonous, if ingested.
Many favorite landscape plants have some degree of toxicity. A few such plants include azalea, allamanda, crape myrtle, lobelia, iris, hydrangea and oleander. There are many others. Rather than attempting to remove all danger, it may be best to teach children not to place any part of an unfamiliar plant in their mouths.