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Pets, Plants, and Poisons

Posted by Cynthia Brian on
Pets, Plants, and Poisons

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Digging Deep with Goddess Gardener, Cynthia Brian
Colorful African daisies. Photos Cynthia Brian

“Flowers have an expression of countenance as much as men or animals. Some seem to smile, some have a sad expression, some are pensive and diffident, others again are plain, honest, and upright.” ~ Henry Ward Beecher

And may I add . some are very poisonous!
Since I was a child growing up on a farm, I have adopted and raised every type of creature, both domesticated and wild. Dogs, cats, rabbits, squirrels, chickens, ducks, geese, cows, horses, sheep, ponies, deer, birds, pigs, goats and more roamed our barnyards. My family never allowed indoor pets, yet many of our animal friends followed us around our expansive gardens as we did our chores, sometimes nibbling on roses or gnawing on low voltage wires, but never getting sick. It seemed that our animals had an innate knowledge of what plant was poisonous and they stayed clear of the oleander, digitalis, hemlock, and hundreds of other toxic specimens.
Recently I was hired by a lovely client to provide a colorful garden design for the family’s backyard. The caveat to the project was that their sweet puppy ate anything growing. While we walked around the yard, the pooch did indeed sample everything. When I submitted my suggested planting list, I was confident that my choices would be fine with a plant-eating pet.
I was wrong. Several of my choices could have caused health issues depending on the amount consumed, potential allergies, or other matters.
In general, plants that are considered toxic or poisonous to people are poisonous to most animals. For example, although humans enjoy many types of mushrooms, there are numerous lethal mushrooms when ingested. If your pet nibbles on a mushroom in the wild, it must be treated as toxic. There have been instances where a plant that is safe for humans has been poisonous to an animal. Often, animals eat larger amounts of the plant resulting in a greater problem.
As I went back to the drawing board to research a list of non-ruinous flowers, it became apparent that contradictions and confusion reign. In one report, a specimen was listed as safe, and in another, it was listed as dangerous. It became important to investigate the Scientific name as well as the Family name. For example, 1,000 species and over 10,000 hybrids of begonia, Scientific name: Begonia spp., Family: Begoniaceae are toxic, while climbing begonia known as Rex Begonia, Scientific name: Cissus dicolor, Family: Vitaceae are fine. The health, age, and size of the pet as well as how much they devour is a factor in whether your pet will be affected. A website that is helpful as a guide for plants that are toxic to dogs is the ASPCA. Visit https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control/dogs-plant-list.
After examining numerous sources and talking to experts, my recommendation is to check with your personal veterinarian before landscaping as your doctor knows your pet best. Many plants with no known toxicity could still cause an allergic reaction under the right conditions. The juice or sap from some plants contains oxalate crystals which are shaped like tiny needles that could result in irritation of the mouth, or in severe instances, cause swelling of the throat and breathing difficulties. Exposure to selected juice or sap could cause itching or burning dermatitis. Minor toxicity plants may not cause any symptoms or induce mild vomiting or diarrhea. Major toxicity plants could have serious effects on body organs such as the heart, liver, or kidney. Just as each human reacts individually to stimuli, so do animals. For this reason, a consultation with your veterinarian is advised.
Of course, there are other circumstances as well. Roses are considered healthy to eat for people and pets if they have not been treated with pesticides, insecticides, or other chemicals. However, a puncture wound from a thorn could cause irritation and pain in both humans and animals. Does this mean that we don’t plant roses?
It’s summer and tomatoes, peppers and beans fill many potagers. I’ve witnessed several friends’ pets navigating the garden munching the ripe juicy veggies straight from the vine. The leaves of tomatoes, peppers, and potatoes contain solanine which can cause gastrointestinal distress and a slow heart rate. The beans could cause additional gas while potatoes need to be cooked before eating. Do we not plant vegetables?
What about garlic and onions? Plants in the Allium family can cause anemia in animals. Certain literature indicates that plants in this family should not be given to pets. Yet, garlic has been a medicinal food for centuries. It is rich in nutrients that boost immunity to numerous ailments. Our family feeds our animals small amounts of raw garlic as an agent to deter worms and repel ticks. Our pets are always healthy. The level of danger must be weighed by you, individually for your animals in concert with the expertise of your veterinarian.
I’ve always considered goats environmentally correct weed-eating and fertilizing animal machines. If you’ve ever witnessed hundreds of goats clearing a hillside of blackberry bushes, poison oak, and a variety of tall grasses, it’s easy to believe that these ruminants can and will consume anything . and everything. Yet, there are over 700 species of plants that could cause toxicity in goats. Fortunately for them, their internal antenna steers them away from the poisonous plants unless starvation is a factor.
This is a curated list of “safe plants for pets” culled from numerous research. With that being written, remember that you and your vet know your pet the best, so make sure to double-check that your beloved friend won’t eat something harmful at home or while traveling.
bee balm
pot marigolds (calendula)
lemon balm
canna lilies
magnolia bushes (need full sun, purple, pink, white)
star jasmine
ginger lily
African daisy
cornflower (Bachelor Buttons)
rabbit’s foot fern
sword fern
chervil (French parsley)
heuchera (coral bells)
Easter lilies
grape hyacinth
baby tears (stonecrop)
ice plant
crape myrtle
mahonia (Oregon grape)
scabious (pincushion flower)
stargazer lily
sweet potato vine
torch lily (red hot poker)

Currently, my landscape is full of a stunning sea of swaying naked ladies. In the Amaryllis genus, this flowering bulb contains a variety of toxic alkaloids with the most prevalent being lycorine. Again, the lethality posed by pet ingestion is contradictory and the medical literature contains no pet-related cases reported. Fortunately, my pets are not interested in this flower, but if you have animals that are nature nibblers, exercise caution, not only in your garden but when out on walks or hikes with your animals.
Do your homework. Keep your plants and pets safe from poisoning. And in case I didn’t write this enough, talk to your vet!
Happy Gardening. Happy Growing.
Blue plumbago is eye-catching and safe for pets in the garden. Photos Cynthia Brian
Roses and snapdragons grow well together, yet roses have thorns. Photos Cynthia Brian
Sword ferns are excellent for shade gardens. Photos Cynthia Brian
Hollyhocks come in numerous colors and are hummingbird magnets. Photos Cynthia Brian
Canna of all hues adds a tropical flair.
The spectacular pink naked ladies grow in any soil condition.
Mahonia, AKA Oregon grape.
Muscari, also called grape hyacinth.
Cynthia Brian and bunny are blessed by a garden angel!
  Cynthia Brian, The Goddess Gardener, is available for hire to help you prepare for your fall garden. Raised in the vineyards of Napa County, Cynthia is a New York Times best-selling author, actor, radio personality, speaker, media and writing coach as well as the Founder and Executive Director of Be the Star You Are!r 501 c3. Tune into Cynthia’s StarStyler Radio Broadcast at www.StarStyleRadio.com. Her newest children’s picture book series, Stella Bella’s Barnyard Adventures, will be available soon. Buy copies of her books, www.cynthiabrian.com/online-store. Receive a FREE inspirational music DVD and special savings. Hire Cynthia for writing projects, garden consults, and inspirational lectures. Cynthia@Star-Style.com www.GoddessGardener.com

Digging Deep with Goddess Gardener, Cynthia Brian in May

Posted by rstapholz on
Digging Deep with Goddess Gardener, Cynthia Brian in May

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By Cynthia Brian 

“I’m grateful for the opportunity to live on this beautiful and astonishing Planet Earth. In the morning, I woke up with a sense of gratitude.” –Earl Nightingale

In California, May reigns as one of the most colorful months of the year. Mother Nature has fully awakened from lingering winter doldrums to burst into bloom. The radiant combination of lush green lawns against cheerful vignettes of glowing, flowing flowers, trees, and shrubs is mesmerizing. Beauty, fragrance, and food beckon from every direction.

With appreciation, I awake each morning and fall asleep each night to the lullabies from a multitude of songbirds. Pollinators are busy buzzing from nectar plants to other food sources signaling a healthy garden environment. The succession of blossoms changes daily from spring bulbs to robust roses; bright bearded iris to sprouted seeds scattered last fall. 

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May is the optimum time to plant annuals, vegetables, and herbs together in a potager garden. By combining a medley of edibles and florals, biological pest control is ignited providing plants to protect one another and be a shelter for beneficial insects. Nasturtium, calendula, and marigolds are the colorful workhorses attracting hungry caterpillars and blackflies away from brassicas and beans. Garlic planted between roses, lettuce, potatoes, or even fruit trees will keep the aphids, Japanese beetles, and ermine moths at bay. Parsley attracts pollinators and protectors of tomatoes. Mint deters ants and aphids but make sure to plant in a pot as mint can overtake an entire garden. Before planting, weed thoroughly, enrich the soil with compost or add new soil, and rotate crops to maintain vigor while producing greater yields.

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Jerusalem star, also known as go-to-bed early, vegetable oyster, or salsify is considered an invasive weed in some areas, but this dandelion-related plant is a forgotten beloved Victorian-era edible that tastes like an oyster and grows like a carrot. Its yellow-flowering relative is named goats beard. The taproot grows to twelve inches into the ground. Harvest with care to not break the root. In the kitchen, salsify is versatile and delicious in soups, stews, bisques, casseroles, or grated like beets in a salad for a fresh seafood/artichoke flavor. The entire plant has been used medicinally. 

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Be cautious of poisonous plants invading your vegetable garden. Poison hemlock is everywhere and is deadly if ingested. The pretty plant displays lacy and fernlike leaves with very delicate white flowers. A member of the carrot family, it is often mistaken for Queen Anne’s lace, a less- lethal specimen. The best way to identify poison hemlock is to look at the stems which have red or purple spots or streaks. Its most poisonous alkaloid is coniine which causes complete respiratory collapse. Only mechanical or artificial ventilation can save someone who has ingested poison hemlock. Wear gloves and a mask to dig out the root. Don’t weed whack it or burn it as small particles could be inhaled. Socrates drank hemlock tea as his preferred method of dying. 

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The yellow blooms of the elderberry tree signal spring’s arrival, and people need to be aware of the toxicity of this beautiful tree. The stems, seeds, leaves, bark, and roots are all poisonous to humans containing a cyanide-inducing glycoside. The blue-black berries are safe to eat only after boiling for at least twenty minutes. Elderberry jam and wine are popular and include major health benefits.

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Foxglove, Digitalis purpurea, a spectacularly beautiful biennial plant, is extremely attractive to children and every part of it is lethal to humans. Compounds from this plant are used in heart medicines. Since they grow tall, five to seven feet tall, plant them at the back of a flower garden and keep them out of your kitchen garden.


Besides getting my potager and vegetable garden installed, my latest fun spring project has been creating a living wall garden by using a decorative frame from Nature Hills Nursery that features a built-in watering tray and a reservoir for drainage. This instant wall planter is a step up from the DYI picture frame with chicken wire-filled moss that I designed several years ago. I added potting soil to the portrait garden, arranged a variety of succulents, attached a found turkey feather, watered, and hung it on the exterior of my house in the sunshine as a growing art piece. 

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Every day I am immersed in gratitude for the wonders of Mother Earth as I watch the procession and succession of nature’s bounty. Walk gently through your garden to enjoy the miraculous magic of May. 

The Goddess Gardener’s Gardening Guide for May

ü  FERTILIZE: If you haven’t already, fertilize trees, shrubs, rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias, lawns, and ground covers while the days are warm, and the evenings are cool. 

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ü  FEED indoor plants

ü  BAIT for snails and slugs that will damage new seedlings with organic Sluggo. The active ingredient is iron phosphate. Corry’s Slug and Snail Killer contains 5% sodium ferric Exceda that is safe for pets and people and can be used on edibles. After eating the bait, these gastropods slink to their hiding places to die. Because both male and female mollusks lay eggs, one slug or snail can contribute to thousands of these pests terrorizing crops if not eradicated. 

ü  SPRAY roses, crape myrtle trees, and ground cover susceptible to aphids and fungal diseases.

ü  DEADHEAD roses as the petals fade to encourage continuous blooming.

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ü  PLANT annuals and perennials including zinnia, salvia, calibrachoa.

ü  ELIMINATE standing water from gutters, old tires, or saucers to reduce the breeding of mosquitoes.

ü  TRANSPLANT small trees, including fruit trees such as nectarine or avocado to the desired area. 

ü  MOW tall wild grass to three inches or less as a fire defensible space.

ü  COMBINE edibles and flowers in a kitchen garden with a variety of tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, beets, squash, garlic, parsley, borage, nasturtium, calendula, roses, and marigolds.

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Happy Gardening. Happy Growing. 

Photos and more: https://www.lamorindaweekly.com/archive/issue1606/Digging-Deep-with-Goddess-Gardener-Cynthia-Brian-Spring-succession.html

Cynthia Brian, The Goddess Gardener, is available for hire to help you prepare for your spring garden. Raised in the vineyards of Napa County, Cynthia is a New York Times best-selling author, actor, radio personality, speaker, media and writing coach as well as the Founder and Executive Director of Be the Star You Are!® 501 c3. Tune into Cynthia’s StarStyle® Radio Broadcast at www.StarStyleRadio.com.

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Buy copies of her books, including, Chicken Soup for the Gardener’s Soul, Growing with the Goddess Gardener, and Be the Star You Are! www.cynthiabrian.com/online-store. Receive a FREE inspirational music DVD and special savings.

Hire Cynthia for writing projects, garden consults, and inspirational lectures.



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