Ornamental Shrubs With Poisonous Berries


Before installing new landscaping, it's a good idea to know which plants are poisonous to pets and children. Many common shrubs contain poisonous berries, which can cause severe abdominal pain and diarrhea and can even be deadly. Evaluating the landscaping around your home can alert you to shrubs you may want to remove for safety sake.

English Holly

Holly is an evergreen shrub commonly found throughout the United States as a landscape shrub. Although all parts of the plant are poisonous, the berries are especially so. The poison is theobromine, an alkaloid similar to caffeine. In large quantities, the berries can cause abdominal pain, dizziness, nausea, low blood pressure and drowsiness. Consuming holly berries is not typically fatal in humans, but just 20 holly berries can potentially kill a dog. Dogs are unable to metabolize theobromine as quickly as humans, and high levels of it can cause fatal cardiac and nervous system problems.


Another ornamental shrub, mistletoe, is synonymous with the Christmas season. Consumption of large quantities of the berries can cause stomach pain and nausea, but is not fatal. The other parts of the plant can cause more serious problems, including seizures and visual disturbances.


Yew is an evergreen shrub which contains two forms of poison, taxol and taxine. Ingestion of yew berries is particularly dangerous because it can cause slow, irregular heartbeat; breathing trouble; coma; seizures; and even death.


Daphne is an evergreen flowering shrub often used in gardens. It produces attractive pink or white flowers. Its berries are highly toxic and can kill a child with just a few bites. Daphne berries are among the most fatal of all the ornamental shrubs, since a small amount can be fatal.


Many common shrubs are poisonous, although other parts besides berries may contain poisonous chemicals. Children should be taught to never chew on or put any part of an outside plant into their mouths. Very young children should not be left unattended near any type of foliage. Pets, especially young puppies who enjoy chewing, should be watched closely in areas with poisonous plants. Familiarize yourself with what is growing around your home and be alert for poisonous plants.


If ingestion of poisonous berries is suspected, seek emergency medical help immediately. Do not induce vomiting unless instructed to do so by poison control center personnel. If possible, take a piece of the shrub to the emergency room for identification. Remember that children can suffer toxic effects from poisonous berries with much smaller quantities than adults. Do not delay treatment, even if only a small amount was consumed.

Keywords: poisonous shrub berries, poisonous plant berries, berry poisoning, ornamental shrubs

About this Author

Roma Lightsey has a B.A. in communications, as well as a B.S.N. Currently, she works as an R.N. in a large city hospital and is pursuing her M.S.N. She has written for "Grit" magazine and a health column for a local newspaper. Lightsey is a member of several RWA (Romance Writers of America) chapters.