Can you recognize the plants and mushrooms in your garden and in the wild that are toxic?

Many people enjoy gardening, roaming about in the wilderness, and foraging for plants and mushrooms.

However, they often don’t know that some plants and mushrooms can be toxic. April is National Garden Month and, in its honor, California Poison Control offers this important information about poisoning by plants and mushrooms.

“There are a lot of plants or mushrooms that can cause toxicity, so it’s important to know which ones are in our environment and be able to identify them,” said Cyrus Rangan, MD, a pediatrician and medical toxicologist with CPCS. “If you do not know the name of a plant, take the plant or a part of the plant with leaves, berries or flowers to a reputable plant nursery to identify it. Try to get both the common name and the Latin scientific name for a plant species. The common names of plants can refer to several different species. It is important to know which species you have by knowing the Latin name.”

According to findings in a paper entitled “Plant Alkaloids Toxicity” there are 100,000 cases of plant-related toxic exposures in the U.S. annually. Symptoms can be delayed or appear within minutes and can range from mild to serious, and sometimes can even be fatal.

About plant and mushroom poisoning
Plants are a major cause of poisoning in children under the age of 6 years.

According to Health Grades, fatalities for young children are rare and adults are more likely to have a serious illness or death, either from deliberately eating a known poisonous plant (for self-harm or substance abuse) or from eating a plant, such as a mushroom thought to be edible. Pets and farm animals can also be exposed to toxic plants. (For plant poisoning related to animals, call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435).

Symptoms of plant and mushroom poisoning
While each situation is unique, plant symptoms can include red, itchy rashes; vomiting and diarrhea; and some can have effects on the heart, liver or kidneys. Symptoms of mushroom toxicity can include abdominal pain and cramping; vomiting and diarrhea; and liver damage. While uncommon, death due to eating wild mushrooms does occur.

Prevent plant and mushroom poisoning
To prevent accidents, be aware of the potential dangers of plants and mushrooms.

  • Know the types of plants that are in your home, work, or school environment.
  • Have the common and Latin names of plants available.
  • Teach children to stay away from potentially toxic or poisonous plants.
  • The only safe mushrooms are those purchased at established food markets.
  • Buy cultivated mushrooms at a reputable food market.
  • Do not eat wild mushrooms that were picked by friends or family members.

Common plant and mushroom exposures
For more information about toxic plants and mushrooms, including a guide to the most common plants and mushrooms that the CPCS receives calls about on an annual basis that includes pictures, symptoms, and first aid, as well as a video (“Close Calls with CPCS: Toxic Plants”), see here.

What to do for a plant or mushroom poisoning

  • Call the Poison Hotline at (800) 222-1222. Even if you are not sure, it will not be a waste of time.
  • When you call the Poison Hotline about a plant or mushroom poisoning, it is best to have a name of the plant or mushroom involved. You can have either the common name or the Latin name. Poison Hotline staff cannot identify plants and mushrooms over the phone from a description of the plant.
  • Do NOT induce vomiting.
  • Remove any plant or mushroom parts from the mouth or hands. Keep any pieces of the plant for identification.
  • Wash around the mouth and hands and give a few sips of water.
  • Check for any irritation of the skin, mouth, or tongue.
  • Do not wait for symptoms to appear. • Treatment will be more difficult once symptoms have developed.
  • If you are advised to go to the hospital, take the plant or part of the plant with you.

About CPCS
Call Poison Control at (800) 222-1222 (number is the same in all states) for questions about poison encounters. Trained pharmacists, nurses and other providers are available to help 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The service is free, confidential and interpreters are available. Get weekly tips about safety by texting TIPS to 20121 for English or texting PUNTOS to 20121 for Spanish. Follow CPCS on Facebook and on Twitter @poisoninfo. CPCS is part of the University of California San Francisco School of Pharmacy and is responsible to the California Emergency Medical Services Authority.