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When your herbivore babe takes to the garden

When our oral-oriented kids share our love for gardens, how do you babyproof and purge the spurge?  Thanks, Camellia, for highlighting this issue:

My 7-month old is a voracious OmniTaster. I was gardening with him on my back yesterday when, quick as lightning, he snagged a piece of Euphorbia and brought it to his mouth. I quickly grabbed it away from him and wiped away the tiny drops of white sap on his face.

Later, he developed a red streak across his face and a raw sore where the sap had landed (for mere seconds!) After a harrowing Google search and call to the poison control center, we learned that not only are many Euphorbia highly poisonous, its sap can actually burn the skin. We were lucky he just got a few drops on his face--it could have been much, much worse if he'd managed to get it into his mouth or eyes (shiver!)

Euphorbia (common name="spurge") are one of the most common plants in Portland gardens. There are countless varieties, including poinsettias. I had a vague notion that they could be poisonous, but had no idea just how pernicious they were. The poison control center recommended not growing them if you have children under the age of five.

I wonder what other common garden and house plants are more dangerous than I realize. I've eschewed foxgloves and datura this year. I know we can't purge our homes and gardens of everything that might harm our children if ingested, but which plants are the really treacherous ones?  Have you removed plants or taken other measures to childproof your garden?


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I'm so glad you brought this up, because I keep meaning to look up certain plants we have in our garden to see if there is anything we really need to watch out for with our 3 year old. She's pretty good about not eating things other than what we tell her is ok, but still you never know. I had no idea about spurge, and I'm not sure if we have it, but thanks so much for the info. I'm so glad your little one is ok!

I have held back from planting certain things that I know are toxic because of having children. Like rhubarb. I figure better be safe now, and I can always plant more things when the kids are older.

Thanks again, you got me thinking about it!

I knew about spurge and don't have any in my yard because the sap is so caustic. The sap from some varieties can even cause blindness if it gets into a person's eye. But that doesn't mean my garden is free of toxins. Rhododendron and azalea nectar is poisonous (though you'd need to concentrate it in the form of honey or eat large quantities to do real harm), and I've got several of those. In fact, even a vegetable garden is still going to include some dangers--rhubarb leaves, potato plants . . . I'm sure there are others.

Rhubarb leaves, by the way, are toxic, but only in pretty large quantities. Unless a kid eats a salad of rhubarb leaves they'd probably be ok. They don't taste good (the toxic oxalic acid gives them a very sour taste, I believe), so probably a kid wouldn't munch on them just for the heck of it.

With a baby as young as yours is, I'd definitely get rid of the spurges (wear disposable gloves and eye protection, make sure you don't touch your skin while you have the contaminated gloves on). With the older kids it's a matter of education that you don't eat anything without asking an adult first. It means training your kids that nature isn't uniformly safe--not a bad lesson to learn at any age.

If you want to go beyond a "purge of the spurge," here's a list I found from Texas A&M showing the more common poisonous garden plants.

Golden Rain trees have lovely, hanging yellow flowers and the seed pods are extremely toxic.

Thanks for this post. My three-year-old seems pretty good about not eating things that he doesn't recognize as food. But this is also the first year he's taken an interest in our garden, and he's seen us do things like take leaves off the mint, basil & rosemary plants and eat them, plus our blueberry and strawberry bushes are about ready to have good fruit (whenever it warms up). I've told him not to eat anything that we don't say is okay, and he's not the type to put random things in his mouth, but ...

And those lists! I knew about spurge and rhubarb and lilies, but I didn't know about the toxic nature of rhododendrons, hydrangeas, and cherry trees -- all of which we have. (And a lot of Portlanders have!) I'd hate to rip them out, but I'd hate more to take him or one of his pals to the emergency room. I guess I'll look into them more ... another thing to slightly freak out about. (This follows the broken CFL bulb of a few days ago.)

Thank you so much for this post. We have a HUGE daphne right against our porch, and it's about two feet from my two-year-old's water table!! I had no idea it was so poisonous. People have remarked on its large size (apparently these are finicky plants?) and it smells amazing when it blooms, but it looks like it will have to go ... anyone know of a gardening club or something that would come dig it up for transplant to a child-free garden?

Thanks for the link, Jan. My back yard is dangerous!And my daughter has already eaten a slug and several dandelions this spring!

I'd like to point out daylilies flowers are actually edible, like nastursiums (sp?). Lily-of-the-valley, though, are toxic (those are the little ones with the white bell-like flowers in spring, and red berries in fall). My son ate two lily-of-the-valley berries as a toddler--after a quick call to poison control I was told that he could have eaten up to 7 berries without being harmed. That always struck me as kind of funny--is there some chart with the maximum number of berries based on the kid's weight/age?!

That was our only negative plant ingestion experience (well, not counting the nightly dinner battles...). I have made it a point to teach the kids which plants in our yard they can eat, and which are poisonous. The lily-of-the-valley eater now calls anise one of his favorite outside plants to eat, as well as lavender (not exactly my first choice).

My first thought when reading this was maybe, instead of ripping out all toxic (yet beautiful) plants, what if concerned gardeners made up a little bed of only edible plants. It wouldn't necessarily have to be a vegetable garden--herbs, certain flowers, maybe a vegetable if you're feeling it. Chives, thyme, basil,sage, anise, nastursiums...there are a ton of easy-to-grow edibles. This way the kids could pick anything in that little garden and taste it. Either the child would learn to identify edibles, or they will be so grossed out by the bitter taste of sage they won't put anything from the garden in their mouths again. :)

i'm in agreement with KM. as moms, it seems like one of the first things we learn is that the world is really one big toxic cess-pool with all kinds of hidden dangers lying in wait to pounce on our little charges. reality is, though, we just can't protect our kids from everything all the time by running interference. and really, do we want to? i know i don't.
what i do want is to teach him (and other kids) skills that will help him make good decisions when i'm NOT around. i love the idea of an edible bed, and we kinda have one going, and i also love to spend time outside with my babe letting him explore and helping him learn about what's safe and what's not. plus, he's at an age that if i say "no," he's pretty much gar-un-teed to say "yes." ;-)

I don't want to be a 'fraidy-mom, but we are renters and so I have no idea what is in our yards. I'm wondering if anyone knows of a good website for identifying nasty plants by what they look like instead of by name? A quick Google search didn't get me far and most of the photos were blurry. I'm hoping for a "the leaves look like this" wizard that then takes me to a "flowers look like this" page. That kind of thing.

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