We read a lot about protecting pollinators lately and the importance of making a commitment to supporting a healthy ecosystem. Bees and butterflies need our help. By purchasing plants that are propagated locally you can often find out what, if any, pesticides were used in production. Propagating plants yourself, from seeds or cuttings, is an even better way to make sure your plants are safe for pollinators, as well as for your children and pets. Xerces Society has two useful documents, “Protecting Pollinators at Home” and “Buying Bee-safe Plants” on their website in the Resources menu.

Know the names of your plants

Plants are complex. Along with water, carbon and cellulose, there are chemicals in plants that provide us with nutrients or pharmaceuticals — and sometimes discomfort. Plants are not always harmless, as anyone who has had a close encounter with poison oak or a thorny Cholla can attest. Sometimes there are toxins that can cause irritation, or worse, when ingested or come in contact with the skin.

Since we all want to relax in and enjoy our gardens, I highly recommend knowing the names of your plants. The National Capital Poison Center has an illustrated list of plants, poisonous and not. I was surprised to see that the first plant listed is apple. What? It turns out that apple seeds contain a substance called amygdalin which, according to Medical News Today, can have a toxic effect. Eating a few by mistake is not worrisome, but ingested in large number, apple seeds can be poisonous. Fortunately, apples are also highly nutritious. Bottom line: within the complexity of a plant’s leaves, bark, seeds or roots, there can be beauty and nutrition and occasional risk.


A handy resource from UNM

So how do we feel carefree in our gardens? Fortunately, there are excellent sources of information available to learn about plant safety. But often they include many plants that don’t grow in New Mexico. So I turned to the University of New Mexico College of Pharmacy. Their website entry on poisonous plants shows some common toxic plants, such as foxglove and Jimson weed. There is a downloadable brochure on the website listing toxic plants in our state, as well as prevention tips. Print it out and keep it handy. Teach young children to not sample plants without asking first.


Protect your pets

If you have pets that roam freely in your garden, the ASPCA has excellent lists of plants that are toxic to dogs and cats. Each plant listed is linked to further information. If you have a cat or dog that likes to nibble on leaves and chew sticks, look up that plant so you no longer have to worry. If it turns out there are concerns, you can remove the plant, restrict access to it or replace it with something you’ve been wanting to add to the landscape anyway. There are plenty of safe, edible, beautiful plants to choose from. Know your plants, keep your four-legged creatures safe.

Some safety tips for the garden:

 • Know the names of your plants.

• Don’t allow children to put plant parts in their mouths.

• Remember that animals respond differently to plants — if they can eat it doesn’t mean we can, too. And vice versa!

• Store seeds, bulbs and fertilizer safely.

• Look up your new plants so you can place them out of harm’s way, if necessary.


Online Resources:

National Capital Poison Center:



 Xerces Society/Pollinator Conservation Resource Center: https://

Learn about toxic plants

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