How to Determine if a Plant Is Poisonous to Your Child or Pet

The friendliest looking flower or bush may actually harbor some of the deadliest toxins, however just the sight of the plant may not give off any clue. If you have pets or young children, knowing about the toxicity levels of the plants in your yard may mean the difference between life and death.


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    Snap a photo and perform a quick Internet search. One of the easiest ways to get more information about your plant is to take a photo of it and then use it for reference when performing your search--especially if you don’t know the plant’s name.
    • Search using the plant’s name. If you are lucky enough to know the name of the plant your search should be relatively simple. Include keywords such as “toxic” in addition to the plant name in your search to determine if the plant posses any danger.
    • Refer to your photo when scanning for images of the plant. If you are unsure what kind of plant you have, use the image to get you to the right place. Search images first and then, when you find a match click on the image to obtain the name. Once you have the plant’s name use the name and the keyword, “toxic” to determine if the plant is dangerous.
    • Consider photographing your entire yard to know exactly what kind of plants you have. In an emergency situation you want to know if a specific plant will have put your child or pet in harm’s way. However, once the emergency has passed, make sure none of your plants are poisonous by searching for each plant.
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    Cut a portion of the plant and bring it to a local home and garden store for evaluation. Sometimes a physician or vet will not know if the plant is dangerous just by looking at it, but a plant expert should.
    • Gather not only the leaves, but any seeds, berries or flowering pieces for evaluation. In some cases the plant expert will need to know if the plant is male or female in order to determine the toxicity level.
    • Inquire about the level of toxicity. Even if the plant is considered to be “toxic” the only impact may be redness or itchy skin. However, other plants can cause liver or kidney failure and possibly death so find out how dangerous the plant is when you talk to the expert.
    • Ask about the expert’s experience with the plant. Has he/she known anyone who was poisoned by this plant and what did they do? Of course going directly to the emergency room or vet is imperative; but some plant experts may have insight into other types of treatment that may counteract the plant’s toxicity--information you may want to share with your physician or vet.
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    Contact poison control or the animal poison control center. Not only will you receive information regarding whether your child or pet ingested a poisonous substance, the technician will advise you on proper ways to handle the poisoning.
    • Describe the plant or use the name when explaining what happened. You may be shaky and upset, but it’s important that you deliver all the pertinent information to the technician as quickly and clearly as possible.
    • Recall when you noticed your child or pet consumed the plant (i.e. he/she vomited or regurgitated some of the leaves or seeds) and how much material was produced. The technician will need to know how much of the plant or its seeds were eaten.
    • Explain what you’ve already done to remedy the situation. Did you already induce vomiting or administer charcoal? In some cases it’s not advisable to induce vomiting so if you have, it’s important to let the technician know.
    • Ask if you should call the emergency services or if you have enough time to drive your child to the hospital. A call to emergency services may already have been placed if the technician believes your child is in imminent danger, however ask about the next step. If your pet has eaten dangerous seeds or plants and it’s after normal vet hours, inquire about an emergency veterinary hospital near you. Many ER vets are open 24/7, which may be key to your pet’s survival.
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    Inquire about the toxicity level before purchasing a plant. Avoid having to worry about your child or dog being poisoned by a plant and ask your home and garden expert to rate the plant’s toxicity level before you purchase a certain plant.
    • Ask about the plant’s flowers or seeds in addition to leaf toxins. In some cases, certain plants flower or produce seeds every few years or during certain seasons. Also, find out when the seeds or flowers will bloom and how often.
    • Consider only purchasing non-toxic plants. Some people believe that their children or pets simply wouldn’t consider eating a plant, however why create a possible risk only for a pretty plant. Ask your gardener to suggest a non-toxic plant that has the same appearance and durability but without the danger.
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    Ask the property owner about the plants in the yard before purchasing a home. In order to avoid an emergency situation, ask for a list of plants already growing in the yard of a home you may want to purchase. Homeowners hire a home inspector to determine it the structure is sound so consider contracting with a plant expert to make sure your yard is safe.
    • Inquire at your local home and garden store if a plant expert is available to assess the property. For a nominal fee many garden stores have an in-house local plant expert who can take a quick tour of the property to identify any hazardous plants.
    • Write into the contract that all toxic or dangerous plants must be removed before you will purchase the house. Especially if you have young children or dogs, trying to remove plants while simultaneously moving into the home may not be a priority. Problems could occur if your child or dog nibbles on a toxic plant during the move or when you are preoccupied with unpacking, which could result in a tragedy.


  • If you find that you have a poisonous plant, don’t just keep a closer eye on your child or pet--remove the plant. The risk is not worth the burden and expense of trying to save your dog or cat or worse, losing your child.
  • Remain calm if you believe your child or pet has been poisoned. Many poisonous plants have an antidote so if you catch the poisoning early enough your child or pet can be saved.


  • While many toxins may appear within 48 hours, some plant toxins can take up to seven to 10 days before they are apparent. Don’t become lulled into a false sense of security that if your pet or child doesn’t seem sick after two days he/she is fine. Find out immediately if the plant is poisonous regardless of how he is behaving.

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Categories: Outdoor Safety | Botany