Six-year-old Ari noticed a pretty white flower in her backyard. She plucked it, smelled the bloom and then rested it behind her ear as she continued to play in her backyard. She had no idea it was poisonous.
The next day, she woke up with raw blisters on her nose. Her left eye was crusted shut and her face was swollen beyond recognition. Hours later, the heart palpitations and breathlessness started.
‘It looked different’
Ari is allergic to bees, bugs and some plants, so it wasn’t uncommon for her to experience rashes after playing outdoors. However, her mum, Chavana Neuweg, knew right away this wasn’t just an allergic reaction.
We were worried immediately because it looked different than when she would have a reaction before,” her mum said. “This time, she instantly had blisters on her nose.”
Chavana drew her daughter a warm oatmeal bath, applied a cold compress to the rash and administered antihistamine medication. However, the rash continued to worsen and Ari became lethargic.
Chavana rushed her to the GP who thought it was poison or an allergic reaction to pollen. Ari returned home with medication but it didn’t stop the rash.
Signs of memory loss
The next day Ari was even worse. She slept most of the day and began showing signs of memory loss.
Call it parent’s intuition but both Chavana and her husband Coby, had a feeling that they should check the plants in their yard.
So, they printed off a list of poisonous plants and downloaded an application on their phones to identify the different varieties. They searched the entire front yard, then moved to the back where they discovered the plant with little white flowers. Chavana recalled Ari having a white flower behind her ear and knew she’d found the plant.
The plant was identified as poison hemlock. It can poison sheep, cattle, swine, horses, domestic animals – and humans.
We had no clue this plant was dangerous. It was literally everywhere in our backyard,” Chavana tells 7Life.
When Ari breathed the flower’s scent, the poison travelled up through her nose, causing the blisters in her nasal passage.
On the road to recovery
Once Chavana and Coby knew what had poisoned Ari, they returned to the hospital. Doctors treated Ari with creams and medications and, three weeks later, she is on the mend. She still has a minor rash and trouble sleeping due to heart palpitations and breathing issues at night.
However, after all of this, we are grateful to have her and see her personality coming back again.”
Chavana is now urging other parents to be aware of the dangerous plants that could be in their yards.
Hemlock widespread in Australia
Ari lives in Mississippi where the Hemlock Plant is incredibly common. However, the poisonous plant also grows as a weed in almost every state in Australia too, except Northern Territory.
The Hemlock has fern-like leaves with white flowers. It grows on riverbanks, along roads, in stockyards, and according to NSW WeedWise, is “capable of causing serious illness or death. All parts of the plant are poisonous when ingested.”
Other poisonous plants to be aware of
Angel’s trumpets – These common garden plants are highly toxic, particularly their leaves and seeds. Rich in alkaloids such as scopolamine and hyoscyamine, if ingested by humans, the trumpets can cause diarrhoea, confusion, migraines, paralysis and even death.
Arum and Belladonna Lily – The Arum Lily can cause pain in the mouth when chewed while Belladonna Lily is especially toxic to children.
Black Bean – Native to Queensland and New South Wales, the black bean, or ‘Moreton Bay chestnut’ produces large pods filled with toxic seeds that weigh roughly 30g each. Ingesting the seeds can cause vomiting and diarrhoea and can be serious if medical attention is not sought.
Castor oil plant – This is a common weed with toxic seeds, flowers and leaves. Chewing and swallowing a few seeds can cause severe nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and stomach pain.
Coral tree – The leaves, barks and seeds are all poisonous on this plant, and the seeds are especially toxic to children. It can cause shortness of breath, blue skin, weakness and light-headedness.
Deadly nightshade – Also known as ‘devil’s berries’ or ‘death cherries’, the deadly nightshade plant and its berries are very poisonous and contain tropane alkaloids that cause hysteria, hallucinations, erratic behaviour and delirium. Ingestion of a single leaf or about 20 berries can be fatal to adults, and smaller doses can cause similar harm to children.
Daphne – All parts of this popular ornamental shrub are poisonous, especially the attractive berries.
Dumb Cane – If chewed, this plant can cause swelling in the mouth.
Euphorbia Genus – The sap of this common plant can cause severe pain and injury to the eyes. It’s also known as spurge or milkweed.
Golden dewdrop – Also known as Sky Flower, this common weed has poisonous leaves and berries which can cause nausea or vomiting, drowsiness, convulsions, fast heart rate, fever and in some cases death if ingested.
Lantana – The green berries can cause stomach pains, jaundice and muscle weakness (if swallowed).
Milky mangrove – The milky sap of this plant is highly poisonous and can cause temporary blindness if it comes into contact with a person’s eyes. Other side effects can include skin irritation and blistering.
Mushrooms and toadstools – There are plenty of poisonous species of mushrooms, most found in the forests, not in backyards, but it’s best to stay away from all species just in case.
Oleander (pink and yellow) – People who come into contact with the plant may experience mild irritation on their skin but a greater risk is posed if any part of the plant is ingested, particularly by children, as this can be fatal.
Rhus or wax tree – AKA Poison Ivy. Coming into contact with this plant can cause rashes, redness, itchiness and blisters over the course of a week or longer.
Strychnine tree – This tree bears small, orange-coloured fruits with highly poisonous seeds that are neurotoxic – they harm the body’s nervous system, causing convulsions, paralysis and even death.
White Cedar Tree – Ingestion of these fruits on this native tree can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, lethargy, confusion, coma and seizures.
What to do if poisoning occurs:
- If the patient is unconscious, unresponsive or having difficulty breathing, dial 000 or get to the emergency section of a hospital immediately.
- If the patient is conscious and responsive, call the Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26 or your doctor.
- If going to a hospital, take a piece of the plant for identification.