Are your plants poisonous & is Oleander really a COVID-19 miracle cure?

poisonous plants, landscape design Sydney, Vogue&vine

Published on LinkedIn 28 August, 2020

It surprises me just how many everyday plants are poisonous, either to people or our pets. Usually this doesn’t affect significant casualties, but it can be very serious when it effects even one. The best way to prevent poisoning is to learn the types of common poisonous plants, so we can recognise and avoid them, and teach our children to do the same. Or keep those plants away from the reach of children and pets.

Unfortunately there are no ‘one size fits all’ factors to look out for. As the Sydney Children’s Hospital Network website succinctly states, “There are no common characteristics of form, colouring, odour or taste, which mark a poisonous or harmful plant from a non-poisonous plant. As a general rule of thumb, plants with a bitter taste, funny smell, milky sap or red seeds or berries may be poisonous.”

Some poisonous common house plants include: Euphorbia and Philodendron varieties, Monstera, Hydrangeas, Daffodil, Foxglove, Elephant Ears, Poison Ivy, Lily-of-the-valley, Ficus, Rhododendron, Aloe, Angel’s Trumpet, Lilys, Succulents and many others. Some of the various symptoms, from either touching, tasting or smelling the plants, (depending on the species), include: rashes, burning, vomiting, lethargy, stomach upset, nausea, seizures, mental confusion, blindness, and in worst cases, coma or death. For a more comprehensive list of poisonous plants, visit articles on Raising Children and Sustainable Gardening Australia.

Only recently, I was visiting a client who was moving house, and warned the removalists to be especially careful when moving the large potted Euphorbia tirucalli (Firesticks) as it’s particularly toxic. I was most concerned to receive a call, only a short time later, that part of the Euphorbia snapped off and went into one of the removalist’s mouth! Not a call I was hoping to receive. The poor man was in burning pain, which affected his mouth and progressed to his nose and eyes. Thankfully, after going to hospital, he had a full recovery, unlike others who have gone blind from the milky sap.

Another severely toxic plant is Nerium oleander (Oleander). This may sound familiar and was featured in the New York Times earlier this week. The article claims the chief executive of American company My Pillow, and Trump major donor, Mike Lindell, hailed Oleandrin as “the miracle cure” for Covid-19, whose essence comes from the Oleander plant. It’s widely known that ingesting even a tiny amount of the shrub can be extremely toxic and potentially fatal.

As the article highlights, it’s not uncommon for plants, even poisonous ones, to generate interest as treatments for disease, however many scientists claim Oleandrin is untested and potentially dangerous. No studies have yet shown that Oleandrin is safe or effective as a coronavirus treatment.

I’ll leave the research findings of Oleandrin to the scientists, but it was a clarion call to highlight the importance of education in making people aware of the potential risks of certain plants.

If you suspect plant poisoning has occurred, immediately call your Doctor, Vet or the Poisons Information Hotline, 131 126, which is open 24 hours.

Though severe poisoning isn’t frequent, it’s always best to be safe, and where possible, please ‘caveat planta emptor’ – let the plant buyer beware.

By Deb Meyer, Landscape Designer from Vogue & Vine – a landscape design and outdoor furniture consultancy in Sydney.