Deciding what shrubs to use on your landscape requires taking into account factors such as climate and soil types. But for those who have children or pets, an additional consideration is how safe a type of shrub is. Despite their attractive appearance, some shrubs can be toxic to humans and animals, and should be avoided if there is a possibility of children or animals coming into contact with them.
Rhododendrons and azalea bushes
Despite their flowery appearance, rhododendrons and azalea bushes are extremely poisonous. Ingesting the leaves or nectar from either of the closely related plants can cause an irregular heartbeat and stress on the heart; more severe reactions include coma, convulsions and even death. Other side effects of these poisonous shrubs include weak muscles, dimming vision, increased salivation and headaches, along with a tingling sensation on the skin and burning in the mouth.
There are more than 800 varieties of ficus plants, many of which take the form of shrubs commonly used as decorative plants in warm areas. The poisonous part of the ficus is in the milky sap that oozes out from broken stems or leaves. Skin that comes in contact with the sap can become puffy, red and irritated, as in an allergic reaction.
The oleander is a flowing shrub commonly found in Mediterranean climates. The entire plant--from leaves to stems to flowers--is highly toxic. Even drinking water that pieces of the oleander plant have been sitting in can be poisonous. Symptoms of oleander poisoning include a decrease or increase in heart rate. Oleander is also poisonous to horses, where it can cause difficulty breathing, colic and arrhythmia.
The English Yew is a woody, evergreen perennial shrub that played an important part in English history. Used to make English longbow, the yew was oftentimes found growing in churchyards. The shrub has long been thought to have been planted at churches and burial sites because of its poisonous berries, which would drive livestock and wild animals away from these holy sites. Yew berries are extremely toxic to both humans and animals if they are consumed without first removing all the seeds, which can be fatal.