Hometown Gardener

Paul and Nila Dowlearn-Owners of Wichita Valley Nursery.  Paul’s recent books, “The Lazy Man’s Garden” and “Touch the Earth” are available at the Nursery, 5314 S.W. Pkwy, Wichita Fall, Texas.

“Though God may have pronounced his work good, we ask, “Is it not poisonous?” –Henry David Thoreau

Poison; the “p” word. The word that strikes fear into many hearts when it comes to our children and beloved pets. But not all of us… Thoreau obviously had no fear regarding plants or Nature in general. Now that there are more than 7 billion of us worldwide there are likely hundreds of millions of us who feel the same as Thoreau. There is little to fear. Nature takes care of Her own.

To begin with, good food tastes good and poison tastes bad (“a bitter pill to swallow”). So you (your dog, infant, what have you) will spit that leaf right out. If you swallow a bit you may gag. Too much swallowed and you will vomit. This is your first line of natural defense.

Too much salt can kill you. Yet, we must have some salt in our diet to be healthy. The belladonna lily is toxic but small amounts are found in several cold and flu medicines. Castor oil was once used as medicine (maybe still). If you are old enough you may recall it was the feared medicine on The Little Rascals TV series. Castor beans have been known to kill youngsters if they managed to swallow enough.

My friend and colleague Barney Lipscomb (Botanical Research Institute of Texas) gives the best seminar on poisonous plants. Over and over he repeats that poison is about, “Dosage and intent.” So you actually have to intend to poison someone, or the neighbor’s barking dog, plus get the dosage right or you’ll wind up with a very sick victim instead of a dead one. Another acquaintance I met with The Native Plant Society of Texas wrote a fine book about edible and useful native plants. Delena Tull felt compelled to address the poison plant issue. In that book which was published in the mid-1980’s, Delena reported there were only two deaths from consuming wild plants in the entire United States the year that she researched. Given we are a nation of hundreds of millions that puts the odds squarely in your favor that you or your child/grandchild will not die from accidental plant poisoning.

Yes, there are some poisonous plants out there. However, the majority of plants are actually edible if we know what to harvest, when it is ripe, and how to prepare it. Tomatoes, peppers, and potatoes are all poisonous. With the former two we eat only the fruits while with potatoes we eat the root. All the rest is toxic to humans. Grasshoppers can eat the whole plant. Go figure.

Be mindful of the fact that I am not recommending you to throw caution to the wind. Toddlers, and in some cases, even the elderly need supervision. What I am saying, emphatically, is that the threat of death or injury is way more likely to occur from contact or ingestion of many common household cleaners, paints, fuels, pesticides, etc. than from any plant found in your landscape. In fact if you are using synthetic weed killers, pesticides, herbicides, or have your house or lawn treated by a exterminator service you may have already exposed yourself and your loved ones (especially pets and toddlers who crawl on the carpets) to a threat much worse than having a garden with lilies or castor beans growing there. Please don’t take my word for it. Do a little research on your own.

We all know there is a couple of spiders and some poisonous snakes out there. Yet, the majority of spiders and snakes are considered beneficial and should be welcome in our landscapes. All of them, even the toxic venom ones, will get out of your way if you give them a chance. I killed a black widow last week. There is a huge orb weaver spider right outside the window where I am sitting right now that will be left to eat bugs. Different levels of threat and toxicity makes up my mind. Knowledge is indeed powerful… And useful. I am not going to deny myself a walk in the wilds or the beauty of a lily due to common fears.

Off my soapbox now… Tropical storm Hannah made landfall south of Corpus Christi Saturday as a hurricane and is now headed toward Monterrey, Mexico and losing strength rapidly. At best we could see some residual moisture from Hannah this week. Odds are at 40% midweek. Hoping that will change. Wind damage along the coast was minimal. Main threat has been flooding.

We have been seeing afternoon showers in Texoma pretty regular and it looks as if that will continue this week. Parts of Archer County and the Kickapoo/Arrowhead watershed have seen 2” and 3” amounts that were reported to me. It has been mild for July due to the presence of beneficial rain even if you did not find yourself directly under the heavy stuff. Only ¼” at our house north of Holiday but 1.25” at the nursery. The nature of summer thunderstorms.

Ya’ll watch out for rattlers, don’t eat the castor beans, and go easy on the salt. Come see us!!

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