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New UF/IFAS app to ID toxic plants

Some livestock, pets and even children occasionally nibble on poisonous plants, presenting a potential pitfall to the animals and youth. Now, a new, free app designed by UF/IFAS researchers and Extension faculty helps you identify toxic plants.

Not only is this the first app to identify strictly Florida plants, it’s also the first to distinguish between toxic weeds.

“This app focuses on the most common and the most toxic plants in Florida, considering the plants and weeds that people, pets and livestock are most likely to encounter in landscapes and other places,” said Chris Marble, an assistant professor of environmental horticulture at the UF/IFAS Mid-Florida Research and Education Center in Apopka, Florida.

As a mobile web app, you view this online, UF/IFAS researchers said. It can be used on computers and mobile devices to compare the photos of the plants to the plant in question. Click here to access the app.

The app features 166 plant species and 455 photos, so each plant has more than one photo. Not everyone knows plant species, so the images should come in handy for people who lack experience with flora, Marble said.

Additionally, he said, “Many plants change their appearance as they age, which is one of the reasons we included so many photos of each plant.”

The app includes all sorts of plants — including invasives and weeds — such as those you’d find in landscapes, parks and farms.

“I think it’s important that this app contains weeds because so many of the reference sources that are online only cover toxic landscape or household plant species,” said Brent Sellers, an agronomy professor and director of the UF/IFAS Range Cattle Research and Education Center (RCREC), in Ona, Florida. “There are plenty of print references on toxic plants for livestock, but this would be the first app that I’m aware of.”

In addition to photos, the app supplies general toxicity levels of “low,” “medium,” “high” and “very high.”

For example, a plant such as oxalis can be toxic if consumed in very large quantities. Livestock might eat a lot of oxalis, for example. But the plant wouldn’t cause much harm otherwise, Marble said. By contrast, something like the seed from a sago palm is extremely toxic to dogs.

“It is common for young animals – especially heifers – to graze on poisonous plants,” Sellers said. “This is especially true in cases when they are brought in from a different area and put in pastures with toxic plants.”

But it’s also common for mature cows to graze toxic plants when desirable forage is scarce, Sellers said.

In addition to Marble and Sellers, other UF/IFAS faculty who helped design the app are Sandra Wilson, a UF/IFAS professor of environmental horticulture; Esen Momol, director of the Florida Friendly Landscaping ™ program – along with her staff – and the UF/IFAS Office of Information Technology, all of whom are based in Gainesville, Florida.

To find out more, contact Marble at marblesc@ufl.edu.

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The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS works to bring science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents. Visit the UF/IFAS web site at ifas.ufl.edu and follow us on social media at @UF_IFAS.