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General Advice for Plants Exposures

General Advice for Plants Exposures

There are many plants in the garden, some poisonous some not. A few simple hints will help us enjoy them all safely

Plant Identification


The correct identification of the plant is very important. It is a good idea to know the names of the plants in your garden, and your pot plants, so that the correct information can be given if poisoning should occur. If you are unsure, take a piece of the plant to a Garden Centre or Botanist. Try to get both a common name and a botanical name. Once the plant has been identified, call your Poisons Centre for advice.

General Advice


Poisonous Plants

There are many plants in the garden that are regarded as internal poisons and can cause toxic effects if parts of the plant are eaten.

Many plants in the household garden can also cause effects to the skin. These can be mechanically irritating (e.g. thorns or prickles), or have sap that can cause pain, burns or dermatitis.

Non-Poisonous Plants

Non-poisonous plants are those that do not cause poisoning to humans. However, it is important to realise that plants may cause unpleasant effects even if they are considered non-toxic.

  • Non-poisonous plants can be irritating to the mouth and throat.
  • Children particularly dislike plants that taste bitter and may become distressed. If this happens, give the child a small drink or something to suck on (such as an ice-block, lolly or wet face-cloth).
  • Non-poisonous plants can cause nausea, or even some vomiting and diarrhea when swallowed.This is simply because the stomach is not used to the plant.
  • Non-poisonous plants can cause an allergic reaction when swallowed or on the skin.This can range from skin irritation or dermatitis, to an all-over rash, temperature, swelling and difficulty breathing.

General Prevention Advice on Garden Plants


  • Children should be encouraged to enjoy the plants in the garden without eating them.
  • It may not be advisable to have plants that are poisonous within reach of children.
  • Berries, flowers and other plant material which fall onto lawns or garden paths should be cleared away so that children are not tempted to put them in their mouth.
  • It is a good idea to know the names of the plants in your garden, and your pot plants, so that the correct information can be given if poisoning should occur.

First Aid for Plant Exposures - What Should I Do?

If Swallowed
If on Skin
If in Eyes

If Swallowed

DO seek medical advice from either your Poisons Centre or your Doctor.
DO immediately give a small amount of water or milk if the plant is corrosive or irritating (e.g. Arum Lily) (1/4 to 1/2 cup for a child, 1 to 2 cups for an adult)
DO NOT give a large amount of fluids
DO NOT make the person vomit without advice from a medical professional

If a person develops an all-over rash or a temperature:

Take the person to the nearest Medical Centre or Hospital as soon as possible.

If the person is having difficulty breathing:

  • Keep the person calm
  • Help the person into a position so that breathing is as easy as possible
  • Quickly ring the emergency services telephone number to call an ambulance.

If on Skin

DO seek medical advice from either your Poisons Centre or your Doctor.
DO remove any spikes or thorns that may have stuck to the skin
DO immediately flush the exposed area with lots of water
DO NOT leave plant matter or sap on the skin, even for a few minutes. They may be absorbed by the skin over time and cause poisoning or burns

If the skin is irritated:

  • Call your Poisons Information Centre
  • Apply calamine lotion or a steroid cream
  • Apply ice or a cold compress
  • Take analgesics for any pain
  • Take an antihistamine for any swelling
  • Do NOT apply ice to hands or feet as this can cut off circulation

If the skin looks burned:

  • Treat the skin the same as a thermal (heat) burn
  • Clean the skin gently with cool water
  • Apply ice or a cold compress
  • Do NOT apply ice to hands or feet as this may cut off circulation
  • If the skin is very painful, infected, or a large area is affected, take the person to a Medical Centre or Hospital.

If in Eyes

DO flush with room-temperature water for at least 15 minutes
DO seek medical advice from either your Poisons Centre or your Doctor.
DO get an eye examination performed at your Medical Centre or Hospital.

DO NOT use an eye bath solution or eye drops. Eye baths and drops do not contain enough water to flush the eye and may react with the plant matter in the eye
Do NOT use a High pressure shower to flush the eye. Showers may cause additional pain to the eye

Related Resources
National Poisons Centre: Poisonous Plants in New Zealand - A National Poisons Centre brochure detailing poisonous plant information as well as first aid and prevention information
Plants in New Zealand Poisonous To Children - A pamphlet detailing many plants available in New Zealand that are poisonous to children
Plants That Poison - A New Zealand Guide - A colourful, informative and easy-to-use book every NZ home should have
Safety In Pre-School Centres: Plants to Avoid - A pamphlet listing a number of poisonous plants which should not be grown in pre-school centres


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University of Otago NZ National Poisons Centre


Last updated 11/03/2009



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