Truth or Poison! Poinsettias Face the Facts.

17 06 2010

Walking around Paradise Gardens you will see a variety of beautiful plants. Some are deadly. Some are just pretty. So which ones pose a threat? I have already mentioned the trumpet flower, also known as angels trumpet, devils trumpet and, if your into Latin, Brugmansia (actually, that is a pretty cool name, I expect to see it popping up in the next vampire series. Edward and Bella meet Dracula and Brugmansia, sounds oh-so vampiresque, dontcha think?).

So the next one I was planning on writing about was poinsettias, that Christmas plant that everyone kills once a year (they are year round, they will live if you take care of them). I mean, everyone knows poinsettias are poisonous to cats, right?? And babies? So we can only assume they ought not be fed to capuchins or tamarins, or even the coati or the tayra. Not that the tayra would be willing to eat it anyway.

But wait… the internet, omniscient fountain of facts, tells me otherwise!

Poinsettias, it seems, got a bad rap way back in 1919 and have stuck with it since then (well, I would too if it kept me from being gnawed on by cats and babies). Apparently a baby died in 1919 after eating some poinsettia and ever since everyone has it in their head that they are poisonous. But no one proved that baby actually died from the poinsettia, and research now indicates that there is almost no way it could have. Nothing before or since has died from poinsettia poison. In fact out of 23,000 kids brought in for poinsettia exposure, none had any toxicity. The American Society of Florists tried to kill a rat with poinsettia but no luck there either. (If it had worked that would have given a new meaning to the line: ’twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse… yeah, ’cause they’d all eaten those poinsettia that were decorating windowsills.)

In fact, the florists (along with some Ohio State researchers) tested quantities so large that they decided a kid weighing 50 pounds would have to eat five to six hundred leaves in order to exceed the doses they tested in their research. So unless you have a lot of poinsettia plants and one very determined child poinsettia seem to be perfectly safe. And even if some kid ate 600 poinsettia leaves, there is no evidence that it would prove toxic or cause any problems other than indigestion and a freaky red stain around the mouth. Which, by the way, is what poinsettias were originally used for, red dye.

Looks To Die For: Beautiful and Posionous here at Paradise Gardens. Part One: Devil’s/Angel’s Trumpet

1 06 2010

Paradise Gardens was originally designed as a personal home and gardens. A pretty spectacular home and gardens but personal anyway. And the designers/builders didn’t envision having animals running all around the place. So there are some poisonous plants here.

Today a couple came who had helped Paul and Jenny build this place and they took the time to point out all the poisonous plants. Many we had already known about. Devils Trumpet I learned about in Ecuador and then again in Colombia. Wikipedia says that its official name is Brugmansia and the proper nickname is Angels Trumpet.  In Ecuador and Colombia I was warned about teas, candies or powders made from the plant and used as an assistant in theft. Basically once you’ve ingested the plant or the byproduct of it you are completely willing. You loose your “voluntad” or your will, and do anything anyone tells you. It goes like this: some nice old lady offers you a candy on the bus, you accept. You eat it, you don’t remember anything after this, you wake up in the hospital or on the street, or you don’t wake up. If you do wake up what you don’t remember is this: the nice old lady asked you for all your jewelry and your wallet and you gave it to her. She asked you to take her to the bank and close down your account so she could have all the money in it. You did. Then she asked if you would take her to your house and give her your computer, your mom’s jewelry, your brothers ipod. You think all this is a great idea (or maybe you don’t think at all) and give all your things away. Then she leaves, leaving you wondering around clueless and will-less, victim to anyone who comes by before the drugs wear off. Or so they say. Wikipedia says that Angels Trumpet (so called because the flowers look like trumpets) is used for shamanic highs… I met someone who made themselves a tea of it (I’m not sure what part of the plant but apparently all parts are toxic and contain the intoxication inducing tropane alkaloids and atropine) and the “shamanic high” they got was awful. He said he would never want to go it again. But according to locals you can put a flower under your pillow to have wacky dreams.

Dangerous beauty: the Angels Trumpet here in Paradise Gardens Aviary

Anyway, the point of all this being: it’s a super strong toxic plant. And although some people use it to get high it’s not highly recommended (hehe… highly recommended… get it?). It is toxic to animals too. And maybe even more so. Consider the size of the monkeys here. Not big. Imagine if this plant can kill a human, or make a human nutty. Then what would it do to a capuchin? And the capuchin’s are the ones we are worried about here. If you pick a flower and are walking by Billy and Monty’s cage they will snatch it from you in an instant. And then chew on it. And we take Manolo out to play all around the gardens. The main things he likes to do are pull peoples hair, jump on your head and put things in his mouth. Anything small enough, especially flowers and shiny things, goes straight into the mouth. He is like an infant except he has sharp teeth and can run and climb. You may be able to “child-proof” your house by putting the glass things up high, the small bits and peices – the chokeable things – in cabinets or on top of the fridge but there is no way to monkey-proof the gardens. And then once he gets something (I had left a chocolate kiss on the table once, instantly into his mouth) it is much harder to get it away from him than a baby. First off he can jump up on top of things (namely trees and buildings) that you just cant get too. Imagine an infant with spider man building jumping skills. Also, even if you can get a hold of him, he is not above biting people to keep his trinkets and keep them in his mouth. So anyway, today we spent learning a little more, from the experts who planted this garden as well as Wikipedia and Google, about the deadly plants we have here. More to come soon…

Manolo wants this orange from a tree in the aviary. He couldn't get it down.