You would not think of intentionally planting poisonous plants in the home landscape, but that is exactly what the University of Illinois - College of Veterinary Medicine has done on campus, and for good reason. They have created an actual garden to grow poisonous plants. Each year, farm livestock, recreational horses and our pets are accidently exposed to plants that harm to some level. The Vet Med garden is there to assist livestock owners and the homeowner with pets and children in identifying harmful plants on the farm and in the home landscape.
This past spring during mushroom season, University of Illinois Extension received weekly calls from worried pet owners suspecting ingestion of mushrooms. It was important that they take their pet to the vet immediately for treatment.
In the brochure that accompanies the Poisonous Plant Garden, Veterinary Medicine has information everyone should know. "The toxic effects of plants vary with the health status, age, and species of the animal affected. Time of year, humidity, growth conditions, and plant growth stage, among other factors, influence a plant's toxicity."
A common example would be poison ivy, where we break out with rash and blisters. Even in the wintertime, what little sap that remains in the woody stems can still give us a mild rash. During the summer and active growth, our skin fares far worse. Another example would be rhubarb; we love the pies, but do not eat the leaves.
Additionally here are some very helpful pointers if you feel a pet or family member has ingested a poisonous plant:
1. Obtain a sample including all parts of the plant (especially those parts ingested).
2. Estimate the quantity eaten.
3. Estimate frequency and duration of exposure, and time of onset and nature of clinical signs.
4. Contact a physician or veterinarian immediately.
The garden includes 22 plots, which contain 80 different plants that have properties that cause mild distress to severe reaction or worse. There are dozens of commonly planted trees, shrubs, evergreens, perennial flowers and weeds growing and listed. A lot of what is there is perennial, yet each spring they will plant annuals too. Not every plant part of every plant is toxic. It is often leaves of course, but also unripe or ripe berries, stems and, for some, the roots. The College of Veterinary Medicine also includes tropical plants we grow as houseplants as our pets will chew on them too.
For your pet, besides contacting your veterinarian, ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center has a website at aspca.org/pet-care/poison-control. For large animals, contact your local Vet or the Veterinary Medicine Emergency Room at 217-333-5300. For family members, contact the Illinois Poison Control Center at 800-222-1222.