As a dog lover (well, an animal lover in general), I spend a lot of time keeping an eye on my treasured pets.
I make sure they are eating a healthy diet, drinking plenty of fresh water and have comfy beds for sleeping.
I’m also vigilant about keeping them away from getting into anything dangerous, such as cleaning supplies, fertilizers and medications.
Whether they’re inside or outside, pet owners must be responsible for keeping their pets safe.
That’s a duty that I take seriously.
Pet owners typically are aware that chocolate, grapes, onions and caffeine are poisonous to pets.
But, other dangers aren’t always so obvious.
Those hazards include poisonous plants and common landscape items that can become hazardous.
Many would agree that mulch is an excellent addition to the landscape. It locks in moisture, prevents weeds and adds curb appeal. However, be sure to keep your pets, especially the younger ones, away from it.
Mulches generally are woody and sharp, and when a pet chews on mulch, there’s a risk of pieces lodging in the throat or the intestines. That’s always serious and sometimes can be fatal.
So, when puppies are out exploring your yard, be sure to keep a close eye on them and offer them lots of pet toys to keep their interest.
Watch out for small rocks and sticks, too. They also pose choking dangers and can cause puncture wounds, and blockages.
But, the biggest risk comes from common landscaping plants because many, while beautiful, are poisonous.
Of course, just because a plant has toxic properties, it doesn’t mean it can’t or shouldn’t be used in a landscape.
Plants play various roles in the landscape. Sometimes they are pollinators. They also provide food or homes for wildlife. Plus, they are important aesthetic features that can boost the value of property.
So, with all those benefits, just remember to be mindful of what you are planting in your landscape, and be sure to take precautions to keep your pets and children away from potential dangers.
To help you stay safe, here are some things to remember about some popular landscape plants.
Milkweed, a favorite among gardeners, exudes a milky sap. Besides causing irritation, the sap can be toxic if consumed.
If you have this plant in your landscape, be sure to keep your pets way from it.
Also, be sure to prevent your pet from straying onto someone else’s property because there may be plants there that could pose harm.
Lantana is another fan favorite. This plant is tough as nails and pretty, too, and is frequented by bees and butterflies. It is also easy to grow and adds nice color to the landscape.
But, it also has its downsides.
It is not recommended in Florida because it is quite invasive and once established, is hard to control.
Plus, it is highly toxic to animals.
Angel’s trumpet is a beautiful plant with huge flowers, shaped like trumpets. The flowers — which can come in white, yellow, orange or peach — hang downward and have a delicate fragrance.
But, the name angel’s trumpet is a misnomer: All parts of this plant are poisonous.
Coral bean — a favorite plant of hummingbirds and butterflies — has tall, red blooms. Those blooms give way to black seed pods, and when they are opened, they give way to shiny, red seeds.
The pretty seeds are enticing to pets and children, but are highly toxic.
If you have this plant, consider removing the seed pods before they split so the seeds aren’t distributed into the landscape.
Another beautiful plant, oleander, is fast-growing and requires little maintenance.
This gorgeous plant produces copious flowers of red, pink, coral, yellow or white combined with long, dark green leaves — making it a shrub showstopper.
At this point, you may have surmised, that every part of this plant is poisonous.
Chinaberry, a very common tree in Florida, grows quickly and tall, and has fragrant flowers.
But, it doesn’t live long, and is a messy tree with poisonous fruit and seeds.
This plant is aggressive and invasive, and not recommended in the landscape. Nicotiana, or flowering tobacco, is another home gardener favorite.
Its green, purple, pink or white flowers are plentiful and it has a heavenly scent, especially at night, making it a great plant for moon gardens.
Since it does contain nicotine, it is another poisonous plant to keep away from pets.
Mistletoe, a popular traditional decoration around the holidays, is poisonous to pets.
It’s not good for trees, either. Found living on many trees in Florida, mistletoe is a parasite, robbing its host plant of nutrients and water. Large infestations of mistletoe can kill otherwise healthy and established trees over time.
It also spreads easily, so if you spot mistletoe, remove it from your landscape.
During summer months, yesterday-today-and-tomorrow blooms can grab your attention as they change color from purple or lavender to white within a day or two.
These plants can grow to be 8 feet tall to 10 feet tall, although there are some dwarf varieties available.
All parts of yesterday-today-and-tomorrow plants are poisonous. The berries are the most toxic.
When deciding what to add to your landscape, be sure to take the time to investigate new plants before planting them.
The first principle of Florida-Friendly Landscaping is to put the right plant in the right place.
This applies not only to mature height, width, sun or shade, but also with consideration to pets and the potential dangers that exist.
Also, after pruning poisonous plants, do not burn the branches. Burning them can release toxic compounds that can cause serious health risks, if inhaled.
Finally, keep in mind that just because a plant is poisonous, it doesn’t mean it must be banned from your landscape.
It just needs to be located in a place where it will be less accessible, or inviting, to pets and children.
If you would like to know about specific plant species and whether they are poisonous, or if you are unsure of a plant identification, be sure to reach out to your local University of Florida/IFAS Extension Office for information.
As the old adage goes, it’s better to be safe, than sorry.
For more information about plants that are poisonous to pets, visit tinyurl.com/ojasgpk.
By Whitney C. Elmore
Dr. Whitney C. Elmore is the UF/IFAS Pasco County Extension director and an Urban Horticulture Agent III.
Published May 27, 2020