The good parent versus the garden!
All parents want to keep their preschool children safe in the garden. There are so many hazards. Selecting the right kind of plants can be a daunting task, especially as so many common favourites are poisonous.
Don’t give up good gardening parents! There are plenty of friendly plants you can grow around play spaces.
List of the top 8 safe plants for the concerned parent: Very easy to grow child safe plants
The following is a selection of non-toxic plants. Please feel free to add other examples to the comments section. It’s also worth pointing out that even if it a plant is considered as non-toxic, eating large quantities of any non-food plant can result in a stomach upset. For this reason, keep an eye on small children and explain to them the importance of not eating from the garden.
A highly attractive annual flowering plant. Very peppery! Both leaves and flowers can be used in salad as cress. You can eat all parts of the plant. Seeds as they are bitter and may contain higher levels of toxins. Avoid if you have stomach complaints such as ulcers.
- Snapdragons (Antirrhinum)
A colourful and fun half-hardy annual. Not at all edible (foul-tasting), but not toxic either. Children love their open and shut mouths! There are some suggestions to avoid the seeds.
- Pot Marigold (Calendula)
Great all round annual flowering plant. Very colourful can be used to decorate salads.
Lovely annual flower. Children will love their hanging red millet-like flowers. Can be used like spinach.
- Lemon Verbena
Fast growing perennial/sub-shrub. Although the flowers are fairly missable, these plants make up for it with the scent of their leaves.
Onion-like grassy clumps with attractive purple pom-pom flowers. Lovely in salad or stir-fries.
Annual flowering plant with attractive blue star-shaped flowers. Good in soups, salads and certain alcoholic beverages. Hairy, slightly prickly leaves may put off many children from consuming.
- Lemon Balm
Lovely mint-like perennial plant with a strong lemon sherbet scent and flavour. Makes a good tea or cold drink.
- Canna Lily (Not to be confused with Calla Lily or Lilium! Both of these are toxic)
A favourite perennial. Produces large tropical leaves and gladioli-like flowers. Not at all toxic. Root can be eaten light water chestnuts.
- Daylily (Hemerocallis)
Lovely grassy leaves and trumpet flowers served daily. Flowers taste like melon.
A very versatile and attractive flowering plant family, with a wide range of flower and foliage types. Only toxic if eaten in huge quantities.
- Linden Tree (Lime)
Not at all toxic. The Linden or Lime tree’s leaves taste like lettuce and make a great lettuce substitute. They also contain beneficial antioxidants. The flowers can be made into a tea that is said to aid brain development.
Other non-toxic plants for outdoors
Please note: Although these plants are considered non-toxic, your child may experience a reaction. Be vigilant! This list may not apply to animals.
- African Daisy (Arctotis)
A tough and colourful daisy-like tender perennial flowering plant. Non-toxic. Be careful not to confuse with toxic Osteospermum.
A lovely honey scented annual. Creates dense mats of either white, light or dark pink. Alyssum is non-toxic.
Lovely feathery flowering perennial plant for shade and damp. Astilbe is non-toxic.
A lovely range of flowering tender perennials with a variety of attractive flowers and leaves. Although this plant is not toxic to human, all parts of the plant are poisonous to other animals.
- California Poppy (Eschscholzia)
A lovely bright and fiery poppy-like flower above silvery leaves. The California Poppy is used in herbal medicine. Will grow as an annual.
Bright and colourful leaves and easy to grow. Coleus is not toxic to humans but may be to other animals.
A lovely non-toxic annual flower. Large white, pink or purple flowers hovering above a mist of green leaves.
- Crab Apple
Only if eaten in quantity, crab apples may cause stomach upset. As with all apples, be careful of seeds. They contain chemicals that metabolised into cyanide during digestion.
- Creeping Jenny (Moneywort)
A lovely creeping plant with attractive yellow flowers.
A perennial flowering plant, often makes itself at home in our gardens with little effort! A good diuretic. Shouldn’t be eaten in high quantities as the leaves contain oxalates.
A lovely lawn dwelling perennial flower. The daisy poses very little or no toxicity risk.
- Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennis)
The Evening Primrose is said to be edible and has medicinal benefits. It has large yellow or pink buttercup-like flowers.
Lovely banana skin flowering shrub. Fun fact: The plant is named after Bruce Forsyth’s great grandfather, who discovered it!
A versatile perennial flowering plant. The dark red fruits can can be eaten but may cause a dry or slightly sore throat.
A bright, showy and rewarding tender/hardy perennial plant. Has some herbal and culinary uses.
A highly tropical flowering shrub or herbaceous perennial. Hibiscus is not at all toxic, but some people have reported a mild allergic reaction when in contact with leaves and flowers.
Tall, Hibiscus-like flowers on this lovely herbaceous perennial. Although Hollyhock is not toxic, it may cause dermatitis in some people when touched.
A lovely tropical foliage perennial plant. May be toxic to cats and dogs, but not generally to human. Eating Hostas may lead to a stomach upset in small children.
- House Leek (Sempervivum: Hen & Chicks)
Tough, densely growing, Sempervivums have been used as a medicinal herb. Not toxic, and some people actually eat them!
- Impatiens (Busy Lizzie)
A lovely shade dwelling flowering annual. The Busy Lizzie has a bitter flavour and may cause stomach upset.
- Jacob’s Ladder (Polemonium caeruleum)
A small, self-seeding perennial plant with forget-me-not like flowers above small glossy palmate leaves. No toxic effects reported for this plant.
A lovely shrub with large clusters of showy, fragrant flowers. Lilac is not toxic. They contain no compounds that will poison or affect humans.
One of the most beautiful flowering trees. Some varieties are non-toxic (such as the Star Magnolia) and others (such as the Southern magnolia) have highly toxic seeds. Read this article about Magnolia toxicity for more details.
- Maidenhair Fern
A lovely green fern with curling throngs. Some ferns are toxic, but not this one. The maidenhair fern is not only non-toxic, it’s also a herbal remedy for treating asthma, rheumatism and even strengthening hair.
- French Marigold (except Marsh Marigold – poisonous!)
Very showy yellow, orange and fiery sweet herbal scented flowers. Technically, they are toxic. However, the toxicity is very mild and usually only manifests itself as skin redness and irritation. Not to be confused with Marsh Marigold, which is poisonous)
- Mountain Ash (Rowan)
A common small tree with bright scarlet berries. The berries are used in making jams, jellies, cordials and even wine. Unprocessed berries may cause a stomach upset.
A large tree with blackberry-like fruit. Although the leaves of the Mulberry are possibly mildly toxic with some herbal benefits, the berries are delicious!
Tropical shrubs with a wide variety of leaves and form. Most palms are non-toxic, except the Fishtail and Caryota varieties.
Lovely flowering annual with often scented trumpet-like flowers. Some people eat the flowers.
- Phlox (Perennial)
A herbaceous perennial with tall flowering spikes. Regarded as non-toxic. The flowers work well in salads and cakes.
- Common Purslane
A succulent annual. Great in salads. Common Purslane has some health benefits.
The loveliest of scented shrubs. Rose petals can be eaten. The only issue could be thorns.
Usually brightly coloured and aromatic family of flowering plants. Salvias are not usually toxic, but some reactions may ensue if eaten.
A flowering shrub with white or pink bracts. Spiraea has been used in traditional medicine and is not considered to be toxic.
Lovely biannual flowering plants. Violets have edible flowers.
- Weeping Willow
A tree with hanging branches and fine bamboo-like leaves. Not considered as toxic.
A deciduous shrub with foxglove-like flowers. The Weigela is considered as poisonous.
A bright sun-loving tender perennial flower. Very showy. Not edible, but not toxic.
Child-Safe, non-poisonous house plants
- African Violet
Soft furry leaves with pink, white or blue flowers, similar to that of the wax begonia. The African Violet is not at all toxic.
- Aluminum Plant
Very interesting leaves. They do technically contain a mild toxin but are not a risk
- Christmas Cactus
A lovely and rewarding spineless cactus. The Christmas Cactus is absolutely free of poisonous compounds.
A popular indoor palm. Dracaena is not considered to be poisonous to humans. It can cause some negative reactions in some people with heightened sensitivities.
A highly scented bulb-based flower. No part of a freesia is toxic and safe to have in the home or garden.
Highly scented camellia-like white flowering shrub. Gardenias are not poisonous, but their woody stems may offer a choking hazard.
Very lovely velvety leaves and flowers. Gloxinias are not a risk to humans or animals
A Succulent perennial with coral or salmon flowers. Kalanchoe is not considered to be toxic to humans but can be to cats and dogs.
A prized indoor tropical flowering plant. Orchids such as Cattleya, Epidendrum, Oncidium, Paphiopedilum are considered to be non-toxic. Other varieties may be toxic.
A Christmas classic. Non-toxic but some may experience a reaction if eaten.
A very rewarding and profusely flowering house plant. Considered to be non-poisonous.
- Venus Fly Trap
A fly eating house plant. The Venus Fly Trap is not at all considered to be toxic…unless you are a small insect.
A leafy house palm. Yucca plants are not harmful to humans, but they may be to cats and dogs.
Poisonous: Common plants to avoid!
- Acorn (Oak)
Contains high concentrations of tannic acid and can be harmful to humans if eaten in large quantities.
The bulb is the most toxic part of the plant.
- Angel’s Trumpet
All parts of the plant are poisonous – the seeds and leaves being especially dangerous.
Contain protoanemonin, which can lead to severe skin and gastrointestinal irritation, burning in the mouth and throat, mouth ulcers, vomiting/nausea, diarrhea, and hematemesis.
- Asparagus Fern
Contact with sap can result in skin irritation. Enticing, bright red berries can cause gastrointestinal symptoms.
- Autumn Crocus
Contains colchicine and colchicine which can lead to gastrointestinal symptoms, followed by convulsions, cardiovascular collapse, multi-organ failure and blood clots.
- Avacado (leaves)
Contains persin, which some individuals can be allergic to.
Ingestion can lead to abdominal discomfort, cramps, and even heart-related complications.
- Bird of Paradise
The leaves can contain hydrocyanic acid and the seeds contain toxic tannins.
- Bleeding Heart
Contains alkaloid toxins. Heart-shaped, red and white flowers may look edible to young children.
- Boston Ivy
The berries are moderately toxic but bitter in taste.
Contains Protoanemonin. However, they are so foul-tasting, poisoning is unlikely.
Contains Asparagine and Calcium oxalate crystals. All parts of Caladium are poisonous if eaten in large quantities.
- Calla Lily (Not to be confused with Canna lily)
Ingestion can lead to diarrhea, intense burning sensations, stomach cramps, swelling to the lips, tongue, and throat.
- Castor-Oil plant
- Chinese Lantern Plant
- Crocus, Autumn
- Daisy (Chrysanthemum)
- Elderberry (Green parts)
- Grape Hyacinth
- Hemlock (All parts of this plant are extremely poisonous!)
- Horse Chestnut
- Lantana Camara
- Monkshood (Extremely poisonous!)
- Morning Glory
- Mountain laurel
- Pansy (seeds)
- Periwinkle (Vinca)
- Potato (Leaves and stems)
- Rhubarb (Leaves are very poisonous)
- Spider Plant
- St. John’s Wort
- Sweet Pea
- Sweet William
- Tomato (Leaves, stems and green fruit)
- Umbrella Plant
- Virginia Creeper
- Wisteria (forms poisonous pods that look like runner beans)
Babies and Children with Pica and Autism
I recently received a request for a list of non-toxic plants. It came from a friend of mine who’s son has a rare disorder called pica. Pica results in an unnatural desire to eat non-nutritional substances such as soil, sand, grass and of course anything growing in the garden.
My eldest son, Samuel was diagnosed with autism at the age of three. Quite commonly for children with autism, he will readily eat anything if not supervised. A constant worry to us. To a large degree, this has shaped our own choices in what we plant in our own back garden.
Of course, this problem is not limited to the parents of children with pica or autism. Babies will happily see your back garden as a finger buffet. There are so many common garden plants that could cause sickness and even death if consumed.
Although I have tried to research every plant on this list, this must still be taken as an “opinion”. Please thoroughly research each plant to ensure that toxicity levels are at an appropriate level for your children. Remember, eating any plant to excess, may result in undesired consequences. Try ‘Googling’: plant-name toxic humans.
Further reading about non-toxic plants