Alberta is home to hundreds of plant species; left alone, most plants are harmless. However, if touched or ingested by humans, some may produce upsetting, painful, or even fatal results. Certain chemicals on leaf surfaces or in plant juices may be skin irritants and induce reddening, swelling, or blistering. Some chemicals effect changes leading to discoloration or light sensitivity.
All humans can be harmed by certain plants; however, the inquisitive child is particularly vulnerable because relatively small amounts of potentially toxic material can cause severe or fatal consequences in a small body. The same volume of material may have little effect on an adult.
Visit our Flora Identification Guide (FIG) for additional details.
Plant Poisoning Prevention
Remember these general tips for plant safety in your outdoor pursuits:
- Avoid eating all plants that have coloured or milky juices such as members of the milkweed, poison ivy, spurge and poppy families. There are exceptions to all general rules; for example, lettuce has milky juice.
- Avoid all unknown white or red fruits. Poison ivy and baneberry have white fruits and are poisonous. Baneberry also has a red-fruited form. Unrecognized fruits should all be treated as potentially toxic.
- Avoid all fruits that are three-sided or three-lobed and thereby eliminate the potential dangers of spurge, horse chestnut, lily, and amaryllis families.
- Avoid eating unknown fruits, seeds, roots and tubers of wild plants as the toxicity of plants is generally greatest in storage organs such as these.
- Avoid all bulbs that do not smell like onions or garlic. Bulbs from members of the lily and amaryllis families can be fatal if eaten in large quantities.
First Aid for Plant Toxicity
Depending on the mechanism of toxicity, the treatment and management of symptoms will vary.
If a person's airway is compromised or if their cardiac condition is abnormal, get immediate medical attention. Collect a sample of the offending plant for medical personnel.
For contact irritations, rinse the affected area immediately with cold water then wipe with isopropyl alcohol. Be sure to use cold water as warm water opens the skin's pores and will allow the toxins to penetrate. Calamine lotion may be used to soothe irritation on the cleansed area.
For plant ingestion poisoning, vomiting and diarrhea are the most common signs. On their own, these signs can be managed, but some plants can cause additional symptoms that may not be immediately obvious. Contact an emergency department or poison control centre for further advice.
Adapted from: Poisonous Outdoor Plants. Government of Alberta.