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updated: 12/9/2013 1:39 PM

Watch out for poison in these popular houseplants

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By Mary Boldan

Q. Can you tell me which houseplants are poisonous? I am concerned when my grandchildren come visit me.

A. Many popular houseplants come from tropical climates where they have adapted to low light levels, making them suitable for the lighting conditions typical in the average home. However some contain compounds that can have adverse reactions in people. Children under the age of 1 are most susceptible to accidentally eating plants that may be poisonous.

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Depending on the child's age, you may want to temporarily move plants to an out-of-reach location or a closed room. Always call Poison Control -- (800) 222-1222 -- or 911 if you suspect a poisoning. A larger list is on their website, illinoispoisoncenter.org/Resource_Library. While serious harm or death from eating house plants is rare, it is best to be cautious. Here are some common houseplants that can pose problems:

• Caladium (Caladium): All plant parts contain calcium oxalate which can cause intense irritation of the mucous membranes produces swelling of the tongue, lips and palate. Symptoms may occur which are mild and not life threatening, still seek medical attention.

• Dumb Cane (Dieffenbachia): All parts of the plant contain calcium oxalate that can cause irritation of the mucous membranes and produce swelling of the tongue, lips and palate. Symptoms may occur which are moderate and not usually life threatening, still seek medical attention.

• Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima): Contrary to popular belief, this plant is not poisonous to people, but is to dogs and cats. While the sap may cause a dermatitis in some people, its toxicity is generally overrated.

• Amaryllis (Hippeastrum): The bulbs contain lycorine that causes nausea and diarrhea. Symptoms may occur which are mild and not life threatening, still seek medical attention.

• Heart-Leaf Philodendron (Philodendron scandens): All plant parts contain calcium oxalate that can cause intense irritation of the mucous membranes produces swelling of the tongue, lips and palate. Symptoms may occur which are mild and not life threatening, still seek medical attention.

• Jerusalem Cherry (Solanum pseudocapsicum): The fruit contains solanine, which is highly toxic and can cause a burning sensation in mouth and throat. Symptoms may occur which are moderate and not usually life threatening, still seek medical attention.

• Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum): This popular lowlight houseplant is only toxic if large quantities of the leaves are eaten. Usually mild and not life threatening.

• Spring bulbs, including hyacinths and daffodils (Narcissus), that are forced for indoor blooms, may be toxic if eaten by humans, and can cause intense stomach problems, high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, and even death depending on which species is ingested.

• English Ivy (Hedera helix) : All parts of English ivy can cause symptoms that include skin irritation, fever, and rash. Symptoms may occur which are mild and not life threatening, still seek medical attention.

• Oleander (Nerium oleander): All parts of this popular indoor flowering shrub are extremely poisonous. Wear gloves and wash your hands when pruning and taking cuttings to be sure you don't accidentally ingest the sap. It can be fatal if eaten.

• Philodendron (all species): While this is a popular indoor plant, eating them can cause burning and swelling of lips, tongue, and throat, and well as vomiting and diarrhea.

• Pothos (Epipremnum aureum): A close relative of philodendron, it causes similar symptoms as philodendron if ingested.

Q. What is the difference between "part sun" and "part shade"? Seems like they mean the same thing.

A. "Part sun" and "part shade" refer to a plant that prefers four to six hours of direct sun each day. It is best if it comes in the first half of the day. The terms are basically interchangeable. When you see "part sun," it stresses that the plant requires at least four hours of sun and will likely do better with closer to six hours during 10 a.m.  to 2 p.m. when the sun is the strongest.

When you see "part shade," this means that the plant should not receive more than six hours of sun and will likely do better with less.

• Provided by Master Gardener Mary Boldan. Master Gardener Answer Desk, located at Friendship Park Conservatory, 395 Algonquin, Des Plaines, is open 9 a.m. to noon on Wednesdays. Call (847) 298-3502 or email Cookcountymg.com@gmail.com

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