Datura stramonium commonly called ‘Moonflower’ or ‘Malpitte’ (above image)
Many plants are poisonous to some degree. Some plants have poisonous seeds, leaves or sap, while other plants have varying levels of poisonous compounds throughout their structure.
Highly poisonous plants commonly found in gardens and in the veld in Gauteng include:
1. Datura stramonium (Malpitte)
Datura is common throughout South Africa, not only in Gauteng. It also commonly called ‘Jimson Weed,’ ‘Devil’s Weed’ or ‘Angel’s Trumpet’, but in south Africa is called either ‘Moonflower’ or ‘Malpitte’. The latter name is the most appropriate for what this plant does. Crazy seeds. All parts of the plant are poisonous, but the seeds are the most dangerous. They contain a variety of psychoactive substances, the most harmful being atropine and scopolamine. These substances can cause severe psychosis in ingested, with irreparable psychological damage! Stay away! They are easily recognisable by their large bell-shaped hanging flowers.
Melia azedarach also known as the Syringa tree (above image)
2. Melia azedarach (Syringa tree)
Syringa trees are very common s shade trees in Gauteng. The berries, produced in dense clusters all and soon found covering the ground under the tree, contain meliatoxin. They are highly poisonous if ingested, causing vomiting, respiratory distress and even seizures. The effects can be fatal. The berries are especially attractive to children – and they are the most vulnerable to poisonous effects of meliatoxin. Poisoning is usually mild, as the berries are bitter, but fatal poisonings do occur.
Ricinus Communis also know as the Castor Oil Plant (above image)
3. Ricinus Communis (Castor Oil Plant)
Easily identified by its large spiky 5-lobed leaves, the Castor Oil plant grows like a weed. It is found everywhere in SA and thrives wherever it can take a hold. It is very common in Gauteng.
Most people pull them out, but the Castor oil plant can look attractive and be retained as part of a garden landscape, and some people keep them as ornamentals.
This plant should be avoided at all costs if you have children or pets, or even children who visit as the seeds contain ricin – one of the deadliest poisons found in plants. Ingestion is almost always fatal, even in adults.
Also called Nerium, but most commonly known as Oleander (above image)
4. Nerium Oleander
Also called Nerium, but most commonly known as Oleander, this attractive flowering shrub is common in gardens and town landscaping in Gauteng and throughout South Africa. This is thanks to its adaptability; Oleander is easily trained into a tree or hedge and delights with masses of pretty pink flowers. However, the whole plant is poisonous – leaves, flowers and seeds can cause mild to severe skin irritation if touched. Poisoning can be more serious if any part of the plant is ingested – especially by a child. Symptoms of Oleander poisoning include vomiting, visual problems and cardiac arrythmia. The seeds are deadly if eaten. However, they are unpalatable, so fatal poisonings are rare. Avoid planting Oleander if you have small children or pets that might chew on it.
Euphorbia Tirraculi also known as the Pencil Cactus / African Milk Tree (above image)
5. Euphorbia Tirraculi (Pencil Cactus / African Milk Tree)
Easy to identify, as long you are not looking for a cactus. Euphorbia Tirraculi is mis-named. It is in fact a succulent that grows as a shrub, or a tree, showing several morphological variations in between, depending on the environment. It is very popular as ornamentals in gardens throughout South Africa and can grow anywhere. Avoid if you have toddlers in tow. The Pencil Cactus produces a latex sap that causes skin irritation and can cause temporary blindness if ingested.
There are many other less poisonous plants common in gardens and homes in Gauteng that you should avoid if you have pets or small children. They are far from deadly, but they can cause illness if any part is ingested or the leaves are chewed, as they contain high levels of oxalate crystals. These include tropicals such as Monstera Deliciosa, Dumb Cane (Dieffenbachia), Arum Lilies and Elephant Ears (Alocasia and Colocasia). If not avoid these plants in Gauteng, treat with care and assume that all plants are poisonous until you know they are not.