Poisonous succulents

Without realising it many people have poisonous plants (f.e.: Dieffenbachia sp; oleander; datura and frangipani) in their gardens. Succulents are not an exception.

It hardly happens that one read about (terminal) casualties related to poisonous plants. This contributes to the assumption that accidents caused by poisonous plants are a rarity. Most ‘poisonous’ succulents however are capable of causing highly allergic reactions. Few, however, do lasting harm and all should be treated with respect.

Garden and household chemicals are more dangerous hazards than plants!!!

But it’s always good to take some precautions when handling succulents.

The members of the Euphorbiaceae family are the best known for their poisonous content although the alkoides of many Euphorbia species are also used for medical and industrial applications. To provide you with two examples of the Euphorbiaceae:

The latex of the Euphorbia antisyphilitica  is used for the production of Candelila (leather polish) and mixed with rubber it’s applied for sealing wax, dental mouldings and lithographic colours. Mixed with paraffin it’s applied in candles.

The latex of the Euphorbia bupleurifolia is highly poisonous but is used for medical skin creams such as those for cracked skin and other skin disorders.

Cactaceae: No cactus spines are poisonous. Some spines, however, cause more pain than others; mainly due to barbs on the end of the spines. 

The US Army has a guide of poisonous and toxic plants.

Symptoms of poising of plants are, amongst others: vomiting, stomach cramps, irregular heartbeat and burning/irritating skin. There are a few simple first aid measurements:

Skin related; wash skin with clear running water

Eye contact: irrigate the eye with clear water for at least 10 to 20 minutes.

Internal contact: stimulate vomiting and rinse mouth thoroughly with clean water. It’s advisable to see a doctor after this first aid.

If irritation becomes worse always consult a doctor. If possible always tell him/her which plant caused the symptoms.

The best is to avoid poisoning by taking good precautions.

A few hints (maybe it seems a bit overdone; that’s up to you): Never take cuttings of (or prune) poisonous plants during a warm day and always wear protective clothing like gloves and glasses (eye-protection). In case of Euphorbia species and (for example) some Adenium species eye-protection is extremely important. In South Africa the most used implement is de ‘braaitang’ (BBQ-tongs). Wrapped in corrugated paper it’s an ideal tool to handle (smaller) spiny plants.

Hygiene is also of utmost importance when handling poisonous plants. Always wash hands and other (possible) attached bodyparts thoroughly!!!