While serious poisoning from plants is extremely unlikely in the UK, there are some plants we should be careful around, especially when pruning, weeding, cutting flowers or deadheading. These plants have irritant sap that can cause anything from a minor rash to blistering of the skin and sometimes – in extreme cases – temporary blindness. What’s more, some plants, such as giant hogweed, Heracleum mantegazzianum, have sap which causes the skin to become extremely sensitive to sunlight. This can result in severe sunburn and potentially long-term skin discolouration.
There’s no need to panic. Simply by wearing gloves and long sleeves while handling these plants is enough to prevent contact. However, it’s worth knowing which plants could affect you, and you may wish to teach your children of the dangers of certain plants and even avoid growing some types of plants while your children are very young.
Browse our list of plants with irritant sap, below.
Aconitum napellus is also known as monkshood, wolfsbane and aconite. It contains a powerful toxin, aconitine, which can kill people who come into contact with it. All parts of the plant are toxic but the sap in particular is a skin irritant, causing burning of the lips and mouth, vomiting, diarrhoea and spasms.
Every part of alstroemeria can be toxic, thanks to the compound tulipalin, which is produced when plant tissues are damaged such as when pruning or deadheading. Ingesting the sap can cause mild vomiting or diarrhoea, while skin contact can cause a rash or irritation and, rarely, blisters and eye irritation.
Sap from all echiums, including viper’s bugloss, Echium vulgare, can cause skin irritation such as a burning sensation and possible blistering, and be mildly toxic if ingested.
Euphorbias have a particularly milky sap, which is extremely irritating to the skin and eyes. The sap can cause burning to the skin and if it comes into contact with your eyes then you may experience a burning sensation, swelling and temporary loss of vision for up to two weeks. As well as wearing gloves when handling euphorbias, gardeners should also wear eye protection.
Chrysanthemum sap contains the phytochemical compound Alantolactone, which can irritate skin on contact and increase sensitivity to sunlight.
Weeping fig, Ficus benjamina, is a popular houseplant. However, contact with its sap can cause an allergic reaction including dermatitis and increased sensitivity to sunlight, especially for those who are allergic to latex. In rare and extreme cases, contact with, or even exposure to, ficus sap, can result in anaphylactic shock.
Parsnips, like all members of the carrot family have irritant sap that’s absorbed by the skin and, when combined with sunshine, can cause extreme sunburn, itching and blistering.
Another popular houseplant, philodendron can cause mild irritation on contact with the sap. The sap is also poisonous when ingested, but only in large doses.
Plants with irritant sap – Nerium oleander
Oleander contains many toxins, which are found in all parts of the plant. Ingestion of any part of the plant can cause serious illness and, in extreme cases, death. Contact with the sap can cause skin rashes and burns, and blurred vision.
Other plants with irritant sap:
- Calla palustris
- Daphne mezereum