When I was young and excitable, I had a poison garden. Suppose I still do, though overgrown and neglected. In the next few years I would like to restore it and add to it as I had planned. My family has tended it a little and with a few casualties (of plants, not people) most of the plants listed here are still growing in it.
From the famous and highly toxic, to the demure and obscure plants, my favorite poison flies under the radar in nearly every garden. See if you recognize any…
Angel’s Trumpet, Thorn apple, Jimsonweed (Datura stramonium)
One of the most beautiful poison plants, and tied in my garden for the ‘most poisonous’. Angel’s trumpet is not named for the shape of the flowers, but for the sound you hear rushing into your head as you are in the final throes of heart failure. Unreal. Your grandmother may grow it as an indoor plant, as it is quite popular with the ladies.
Monkshood (Aconitum napellus)
Many serious perennial gardeners have this stately plant. Beautiful, hardy, and tied for second-most poisonous in my garden, monkshood is quite popular and super deadly. Keep children away and always wear gloves when handling. I made the mistake of taking this lightly one day… not good… minor palpitations and dizziness was enough to cure me of the no-glove habit. The stalks dried over winter can be safely handled when raking, but i tend to not linger with them.
Columbine or Honeysuckle (Aquilegia atrata)
I grow a black columbine. I pick it freely without gloves, so don’t panic if you have it. Once used to induce miscarriage, I suspect it is as poisonous as tansy. I don’t list tansy here as it grows as unfettered as dandelions in this area. Oh yeah, tansy is poisonous too.
Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium)
Now, this one is not as common. I ordered mine in. It’s active ingredient is a neurotoxin and it is used in absinthe manufacture. Also, one of the ingredients in some ancient flying potions. It has a slight anise or licorice scent and would be good with gin. Wormwood apparently sprang up in the trail of the devil as he left the Garden of Eden, so how cool is that?
Dogbane (Apocynum cannabinum)
The stems are deep red and contain a milky sap capable of causing skin blisters. You likely have it in your rosebushes. It hinders corn production and can harm infants. It grows everywhere, so it remains along our fence to compliment the poison garden.
Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis)
Everyone grows this. People share it. A super-beautiful plant that smells wonderful and can be dried with great success – it is also super deadly. Ingestion can lead to heart failure and gastrointestinal upset. What’s not to love!
Foxglove (Digitalis spp.)
Digitalis? If you take heart medication, you know what this does. Imagine it in unregulated super-doses, and that is what foxglove does. Super pretty plant ~ with super heart ‘splody power. Not to be handled without gloves if you have a weak heart. I keep the gloves on anyway, just in case.
Snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis)
Yeah, another narcissus… it goes hand in hand with my narcissus and muscari. don’t eat the bulbs… effects range from out-and-out painful death to a case of the trots. for more, see Narcissus. Actually, I must say, lily of the valley and muscari make the best mini posy arrangements ever, smell wonderful and look striking with vibrant greens, pure whites and deep perfect blues. Love it.
Crab apple (Malus)
Yup. Poison. They grow everywhere. We personally grow an edible apple similar to a mac, and all apples are just as poisonous. If i recall, there is a film around the seed in apples that is rife with cyanide, and crab apples are the worst for it. So yes kids, don’t eat the seeds… or at least, don’t gather a bowl of seeds, peel them and eat them. It may be a myth, but where there is smoke…
Daffodil (Narcissus spp.)
Often mistaken for onions. this is how most poisonings happen, so if you find a bag in Gramma’s cellar with little oniony like things in it – do not put them in your soup. it happens, trust me. This is confused in the story of the death of Socrates, who was sentenced to suicide by drinking mandrake, not eating narcissus bulbs.
Catmint (Nepeta faassenii)Not necessarily poisonous, but it is said that people ingesting catnip are made “quarrelsome”. Good thing too, as Celt warriors used to eat handfuls of the stuff before war. Not a good idea for a tea before work, eh?
Tobacco (Nicotiana sylvestris)Kills millions, worldwide, everyday. Obviously. Not so obvious, is that it makes a wonderfully beautiful flowering plant with huge elephantine leaves. Hummingbirds adore this showy plant.
Opium poppy (Papaver somniferum)Kills millions, worldwide, everyday. grows quite easily in sandy soil too, with little care. In fact, I ignore it. My mother planted it. Your mom did too, and her mom. Most of the poppies here are in fact opium poppies. We just don’t grow them in such vast quantities required for opium production. Good thing too…
Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum odoratum)Only poisonous in massive quantities, this is a striking addition to the Bleeding Heart in your garden. The berries are often picked off by birds or other animals, so rarely do humans get to see them, let alone ingest them.
Rhubarb (Rheum x hybridum)thepoisongarden.co.uk puts it best, so i will quote to get the serious point across. “Death from eating rhubarb leaves occurs quickly and is preceded by drowsiness, possibly leading to coma, convulsions, internal bleeding and nosebleeds as coagulation is inhibited. Symptoms begin within an hour of ingestion.”For every person who knows this there are three who don’t. sigh…
Castor Bean (Ricinus communis)Although it was used in some high-profile assassination plots, this is not the most poisonous thing on earth. Avoid eating the beans and you will be okay. The Castor tree is quite majestic and the leaves are serrate and slick, giving an oily appearance. This is the source of the poison ricin.
Skullcap (Scutellaria laterifolia)More flying potion ingredients, I acquired these from a garage sale a few years ago. A mild toxin causes narcotic episodes similar to ether from what I understand. A pretty little plant with fine flowers. Not one to be afraid of death-wise, if you can avoid eating large buckets full of it, that is.
Stonecrop (Sedum Acre)Not too toxic, causes stomach upset and the trots, but seriously, anything this gelatinous inside would. It irritates mucous membranes, but only with quite a bit of effort. It looks weird, tastes horrible and is really very tiny, so it would take loads of the stuff to kill you.
Woody Nightshade (Solanum dulcamara)A public service announcement. like Dogbane, it grows everywhere. I have warned parents off of it many times for their kids sake. the berries look really appealing, and while an adult may taste one and agree it is bitter with no ill effects, a child may not be so lucky. Highly toxic. Warn your kids away from this one. Really striking little purple and yellow flowers though.
At the moment, there is nothing outright dangerous in the garden and certainly nothing illegal, but if it were made public in any form, I am sure a fence would be mandatory.