In my last column (Sept. 6 Roundup), I mentioned some poisonous plants and, as it can be disastrous if young children ingest some parts of these plants, it would be good to mention some other plants that are toxic to children, animals, or even adults. Even a seed stuffed up a nose can be bad enough, but if put in the mouth, even worse. Just as more children die in swimming pools than are killed by guns, being forewarned is being forearmed.
The large, white-flowering Datura, mentioned last month, may be beautiful in some people's eyes, but I think of the danger they can be and get rid of them -- with gloves on. Datura is also known as jimsonweed, and as thorn apple, due to its spiny seedpods that can be seen at this time of the year. The bird of paradise bush, caesalpinia, seeds come to mind -- even three seeds can kill a horse. Although common in southern Arizona, they may need some protection in the Rim Country. Seen often in medians and landscaping, their bright orange blossoms are beautiful to look at and add a great splash of color. Some other leguminous plants also contain poisonous substances, so it is recommended that you learn about plants as you select them for the garden, particularly where there are children and animals.
Maybe you enjoy rhubarb pie? I do and have always grown rhubarb in my garden. In England, I grew champagne rhubarb, which was the sweetest kind you could ever wish for. To date, I have not been able to find it in this country. Here, it just seems to be "rhubarb." However, the leaves of rhubarb are poisonous if eaten. Cut them off outside before taking the stems into the kitchen. The roots can be used as an ingredient of aphrodisiac drinks. While on the subject of rhubarb, I can poke fun at myself. When pregnant for the first time, I had the routine prenatal checks done. The day after one of these checks, the doctor came hotfoot to my home thinking I needed some emergency care as there was excessive sugar in my urine. Fortunately, I recalled that only the day before I had picked, cooked, and eaten, the first bowl of rhubarb of the season. The first picking is always less sweet than subsequent pickings, so I had added a lot of sugar to the bowl of fruit.
In the vegetable and fruit garden, beware! Plants in the Solanum family have poisonous parts. This includes tomatoes and potatoes. Having mentioned pregnancy earlier, do not eat any part of a potato that has green areas on it when you are cooking for someone who is pregnant. Throw the whole spud out! Birth defects have been caused by eating these, as have potatoes with blight -- prevalent in Ireland, where they grow quantities of potatoes, in a lot of rain. Potato leaves, and those of tomato plants, are poisonous too.
Datura and brugmansia are also in the solanum family. The main difference between the two genera is that the flowers of brugmansia hang down, and those of datura point upward. The ornamental angel's trumpets are brugmansia but these, unlike datura, do not tolerate frost. In the southern states, angel's trumpets are grown for the production of scopolamine for the pharmaceutical industry.
When planting century plants (agaves), plant them away from pathways. In the Rim Country, the physical danger of the ends of agave leaves is of more concern than the flesh. If they are in containers, it is a good idea to trim off the sharp points of their leaves. I always do this before children come to visit, just in case they tumble when playing. Agaves make great focal points in a planting bed and their tall flowers are spectacular. The rosettes that have flowered die after flowering but, by then, they have usually made many offsets so you won't lose the plant entirely. Although some agaves are frost tender, there are plenty of them that tolerate the cold. For example, Agave montana comes from the mountains, at more than 9,000 feet. It is in less chilly places, such as Mexico, where agaves are grown for the production of tequila, which can be toxic if consumed to excess.
Other succulent plants in the Rim Country are more likely to be grown in greenhouses or on window sills. These include cacti. A few cacti contain psychoactive compounds, but it is not likely that children would try to eat them -- the spines should deter them. The spines are not toxic, so there is no need to panic if you get stuck, unless it is in the eye or other tender spot, when a hospital trip might be necessary.
There are many other plants that contain psychoactive substances. The important thing is to know what you are eating and not to eat part of any plant until you have learned about it.
This month in the garden
Now is the time to divide your flowering perennials before the weather becomes wintry. We've already had the first frost warning on the Rim this fall, so get the job done before the ground gets too cold. Try to avoid doing this when frost is on the ground as it is important not to let the frost fall into the planting hole, against the roots.
If you have used a weed-killing chemical recently on the fall weed crop, now is the time to clear the browned and dried remains. Consider the best way to dispose of this dead vegetation, depending upon how it died and the chemicals used. Check the instructions on the container.
If you need to trim shrubs or trees, get this done before the frost arrives. Ideally, shrubs should be trimmed after flowering, but we don't always get everything done when we should. And don't forget to get some mulch around your shrubs before winter sets in. Use what you have -- preferably low-nitrogen content, so as not to encourage growth during winter, or talk to your local nurseryman.
If you have a watering system installed, prepare it for winter. This may mean that the control unit should be disconnected and taken inside during the winter season. Again, check the instruction manual to see if the control unit is insulated from the cold. If your watering system is not controlled from indoors nor underground nor well-lagged, you may have to provide water manually if there is little rain. Make sure standpipes are lagged adequately or check that last year's lagging is in good order, and replace now if it isn't. If you are in a particularly cold area, you may wish to drain drums of water if not lagged, before they freeze solid and break the containers. Brrrrh, it won't be long now!