Last Updated on February 2, 2023 by Tory Moore
Weeds and invasive plants can be a nuisance to a home or business landscape, and some of them are also toxic to people or animals. A new UF/IFAS publication details some of the most common poisonous plants found in Florida residential landscapes.
Ingestion of poisonous plants make up only 3% of Poison Control cases, but can be fatal in rare instances. However, there is no need to panic, experts say. The key is to be aware of the plant’s presence and the potential risks.
“Just because a plant has some toxic properties does not mean it should not be used in a landscape or that it must be removed,” said Chris Marble, associate professor with a focus on weed management based at the UF/IFAS Mid-Florida Research and Education Center. “The key is to be informed and to know which species are toxic so you can prevent accidental exposure, especially when small children or pets are present.”
Finding one of these plants in your yard does not necessarily require action in all cases. Many common ornamentals and native plants are toxic if ingested, but that does not always mean they need to be removed. Poisonous plants may still have a place in the landscape and provide curb appeal to a landscape or may benefit wildlife.
The guide provides toxicity information for each plant which can help weigh the benefits of the plant against the risks of possible exposure. The list is not exhaustive but details the 10 common poisonous weeds and invasive plants found in Florida landscapes.
“The prevalence of each plant will depend on your region and environment,” Marble said. But you need to know who or what might be in danger if they ingest the plant. “Some of the plants are only toxic to pets, others only toxic to people. It’s important to know the differences and the guide outlines that.”
One of the most common plants listed is pokeweed, a native plant commonly found in wooded areas, pastures and fields. Often considered a weed, it is an important food source for wildlife. On the contrary, it is toxic to humans, pets, and livestock and if large amounts are consumed, can cause death.
Similarly, nightshade is a Florida native plant found in forests, grasslands and gardens with berries that can cause gastrointestinal problems, weakness, hallucinations and even death. Depending on the specific species of nightshade, it may impact pets, humans and livestock.
“If someone has pets or small children that might be at risk, scouting your property regularly is important to stay up to date with the plants in your landscape,” said Marble.
An important tool to have on-hand when scouting is the UF/IFAS weed identification tool which helps identify weeds by flower color or this mobile tool specifically designed to identify toxic plants.
If you, a loved one or a pet ingest a plant and become ill, immediately contact Poison Control for guidance before the onset of symptoms.