Gardening is a wonderful hobby but one has to take care of the dangers that lurk in your garden. There are a number of hazardous and harmful plants that children and the adult alike fall prey to.
The poison ivy, for example is the most common of them all. This weedy plant, each year causes more than 350,000 reported cases of human contact dermatitis in Britain. This year, an increase in the concentration of carbon dioxide in the air has contributed to an abundant crop with a more powerful toxin.
The extremely itchy plant not only causes blisters but also the exposure to the plant is quite harmful.
In 2003, according to an authoritative new book, poison control centers nationwide received more than 57,000 calls relating to exposure to potentially harmful plants, and 85 percent of them involved children under age 6. Most, however, were considered simply exposures; either no toxin was ingested or the amount consumed was too small to be harmful.
Dr. Lewis S. Nelson, Dr. Richard D. Shih and Michael J. Balick, have produced a book called the 'Handbook of Poisonous and Injurious Plants'. This book will be quite useful for health care professionals identify and treat plant-caused injuries. It will also be a guide to the ordinary people who dirty their hands and knees in their gardens.
The generously illustrated book highlights hundreds of troublesome plants, providing photographs and written descriptions, common names, geographic distributions, toxic parts and toxins, effects on the body and information on medical management.
Many of the potentially dangerous plant present in an ordinary garden include aloe, elephant's ear, jade, peace lily (Spathiphyllum), philodendron and dumbcane (Dieffenbacchia), as well as foxglove (Digitalis purpurea), hellebore, vinca, rhododendron and chrysanthemum.
Many of these dangerous plants have medicinal values and are useful in keeping away predators. Vinca, for example, was the original source of the anticancer drug vincristine, and foxglove gave us the valuable heart stimulant digitalis.
Many toxic plants are beautiful and colorful, prompting people to pick them to adorn their homes and gardens. But their very attractiveness is what creates a hazard for small children, who may be tempted to put toxic berries, flowers or foliage in their mouths. Sometimes adults too, pick what they think are edible or medicinal plants but mistakenly choose a toxic look-alike. Other cases have involved people who picked foxglove before it flowered, thinking it was a helpful herb that could be made into a medicinal tea. And sometimes herbal teas that should be safe are not because they were accidentally contaminated by a toxic plant.
While ingested plant poisons are the most common hazard for small children, people who come into contact with poison ivy do not wash their hand immediately. This often causes the reaction of the toxin urushiol to spread according to Dr. Nelson, of New York University School of Medicine and the New York City Poison Control Center.
Urushiol causes a slowly developing rash characterized by pain, itchiness, redness, swelling and blisters. This toxin is also found on the skin of mangoes Treatment of a poison ivy rash typically involves relieving the itch with calamine lotion and taking an oral antihistamine or, in more serious cases, a corticosteroid.
There are many other plants that contain chemical irritants, like capsaicin from chili peppers. This chemical is a mucous membrane irritant that causes the release of a substance that stimulates pain fibers and inflammation. This is especially painful when contaminated fingers transfer the chemical to the eyes or genitalia. To relieve the discomfort, it takes thorough and repeated washing, an analgesic to relieve the pain and, in some cases, anti-inflammatory medication.
Some plants, including agave, snow-on-the-mountain, crown-of-thorns, marsh marigold and buttercup, contain an irritant sap or latex, which can cause a chemical burn on the skin.
There are also plants that contain phototoxins — substances that increase the sensitivity of the skin to ultraviolet light and can result in a blistering sunburn. Among these are yarrow, rue and Queen Anne's lace.