Being poisonous or toxic is a defense against foraging wildlife that many plants have evolved over time. A plant's poisonous nature is not always common knowledge, this is why it is so important to get all the information you can about a plant before making a purchase. In Florida, there are a number of poisonous plants that are often used in outdoor gardens or as houseplants. They should never be in a place where pets and children are unattended.
Dieffenbachia (Dieffenbachia amoena)
Dieffenbachia, commonly used as a houseplant, is also known as dumb cane because of the toxic effects of the sap. The plant contains oxalate crystals in the stems, roots and leaves. The crystals are needle-sharp and cause pain, burning and irritation of the lips mouth and throat. It can also cause slurred speech. Dieffenbachia can grow as tall as 6 feet, with dark green leaves that have patches of white along the veins. The leaves can grow to about 20 inches long and half as wide. Petioles--the part that joins the leaf to the stem--are 12 inches long and the spathes--the part that encloses the flowers--are 5 inches long and green. The plant can flower at any time of the year, depending on the growing conditions. The plant needs partial to full shade and a rich, moist, well-drained soil.
Chinaberry (Melia azedarach)
All parts of the chinaberry tree can be poisonous. They can all cause skin irritation. The berries are extremely dangerous if eaten. They can cause vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramps, fever, seizures and shallow or difficult breathing. The chinaberry is a deciduous tree that can grow as tall as 50 feet and have a trunk that is 2 feet in diameter and dark brown in color. The leaves have a lacy appearance and turn a golden yellow in the fall. It produces pink, lavender or white flowers from March to May.
Angel's Trumpet (Brugmansia)
Angel's trumpet, also called datura, causes hallucinations, dry mouth, muscle weakness, increased blood pressure and pulse, fever, dilated pupils and paralysis when eaten or brewed as a tea. It can be fatal. The flowers are night bloomers, opening up after dark and closing up at sunrise. It is a flowering shrub that can be grown as a tree. The flowers are large and trumpet shaped with a heavy perfume scent and can be white, peach, yellow or orange. They are very attractive to hummingbirds. Angel's trumpet likes full sun, but can survive in partial shade. It needs a soil that is moist and well fertilized.