Enjoy evergreens safely, indoors and out

Published: Thursday, December 19, 2013 at 14:06 PM.

When cutting greenery, one plant that should be avoided is oleander, a large evergreen shrub often planted in coastal areas because of its high salt and drought tolerance. All parts of the plant are poisonous if eaten, and most will exude a thick, white sap when cut. This sap can cause serious burns in people who are particularly sensitive to it. A few other plants commonly encountered in home landscapes that can be highly toxic if eaten include azaleas, winter daphne, Carolina jessamine, and Carolina cherry laurel, particularly the wilted leaves which produce cyanide when ingested.

Caution with berries

Plants with berries are another group to be approached with caution. The berries of all hollies, including our native yaupon and American holly, are reported to cause vomiting, nausea and diarrhea if eaten in large quantities. Holly berries in the home should not cause problems unless there are small children running around with eccentric and inquisitive eating habits. Nandina is another shrub whose bright red berries are often used in Christmas decorations. While they have never been reported to cause poisoning in humans, nandina berries have caused problems for curious cats that have eaten the brightly colored berries. You may want to avoid it if you have a feline in the house with a particularly inquisitive disposition.

Another plant whose berries are often associated with the holidays is mistletoe. There are several different similar looking plants found around the world that go by the name mistletoe, but in our area the mistletoe that can be seen growing on tree limbs that have dropped their leaves for winter is known as American or oak mistletoe (Phoradendron leucocarpum). Its leave and berries are reported to be toxic if eaten in quantity, so a small sprig hanging high above the heads of curious children and pets should cause little harm.

To find out more about which plants could be poisonous to people visit the new NC Cooperative Extension Plants Database, plants.ces.ncsu.edu/, and click on the ‘Poisonous Plants’ tab. To determine if a plant is poisonous to animals, visit NCSU’s Plants Poisonous to Livestock and Pets in NC website, harvest.cals.ncsu.edu/applications/plant_biology/poisonous/.

Learn more!

For help with plant identification or other gardening questions, visit ces.ncsu.edu where you can submit questions via the ‘Ask an Expert’ link, or contact your local Cooperative Extension center by phone: If you live in Pender County, call 910-259-1238; in New Hanover County, call 910-798-7660; in Brunswick County call 910-253-2610.

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