Toxic Shade Plants

Gardeners with shady yards may feel frustrated with what seem like limited options. Finding plants that thrive in shade can be a challenge. Don't lose heart, because many shade-tolerant plants--from ground covers and blooming bulbs to shrubs to and trees--are available. Many of them, however, are toxic if ingested. Protect your family and pets from the varieties you plant, and enjoy the color and form they bring to those sun-starved spots.

Rosebay Rhododenron

Rosebay rhododendron (Rhododendron maximum) is a 4-to-15 foot evergreen shrub of the moist woods and mountain slopes from Maine to Georgia. They are especially common in Great Smokey Mountain National Park. Blue-green, glossy leaves are the biggest of any native rhododendron. Showy clusters of 16 to 24 bell-shaped white or pink flowers cover its branch ends in June. Inner petals have yellow-green splotches. Plant this popular ornamental in a cool, partly-shady spot with well-drained, moist or wet, acidic soil. Ingesting any part of this plant, including honey made from its nectar, is toxic and potentially fatal to people and animals. Signs of toxicity include excessive salivation, abdominal pain with diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, labored breathing, arm and leg paralysis, and coma.

Blue Cohosh

Blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides) is a barberry family perennial at home in full shade. Standing from 1 to 3 feet high, it grows wild in woods from New Brunswick to New England, and in the South Carolina mountains. Its three-lobed leaf stems are purple when new, and blue-green when mature. April and May bring clusters of unusual greenish-yellow flowers with noticeable nectar glands. Bright blue berry clusters follow the flowers. Plant blue cohosh in shade and moist, rich, well-drained soil. Toxins in its leaves, roots and berries can irritate the skin. Roots and raw seeds and berries are mildly toxic, causing vomiting and diarrhea if ingested.

Columbian Monkshood

A 2 to 6 foot high, shade-loving perennial, Columbian monkshood (Aconitum columbianum) belongs to the buttercup family. Its lobed green leaves become smaller as they ascend the upright stems. July and August spikes of hooded purplish-blue flowers bloom from the bottom up. Columbian monkshood grows wild along streams and in moist woods from Washington State south to Arizona and east to Iowa. Plant it in shade and rich, moist soil. It will attract hummingbirds and bumblebees to your garden. Monkshood is toxic to both animals and people when ingested. Its seeds, roots and new leaves may be more toxic than other parts. Children may be more susceptible to the toxins.

Keywords: toxic shade plants, shade gardening, shade tolerant plants

About this Author

A freelance writer, Judy Wolfe has owned Prose for the Pros, a freelance writing business, since 2006. She's been an inveterate traveler since 1961 and draws on her travel experiences to provide articles for such websites as Chincoteague Island Vacations and Berlin Dude. Wolfe holds a Bachelor of Arts in literature from California State University at Pomona.