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Harmful Plants in Play Areas

When it comes to playgrounds and specificlly pre-school centres, safety should always be the top priority. This includes ensuring that the environment is free from any potential hazards, including harmful plants.

While plants can provide a lot of benefits, such as improving air quality and creating a calming atmosphere, some plants can be dangerous, especially to young children who may be more vulnerable. Some plants can cause skin irritation, poisoning, or allergic reactions.

Therefore, it is essential to be aware of the plants that should not be grown or tolerated in playgrounds. Existing literature suggests that certain plants should be avoided, and it is important to take note of these recommendations.

Some plants contain a toxic oils that can cause severe allergic reactions, such as a rash, blisters, and swelling. Other plants to avoid include oleander, foxglove, lantana, and hemlock, as they contain toxins that can be harmful if ingested or come into contact with the skin.

To ensure the safety of children in play areas, it is important to regularly inspect the plants in the area and remove any potentially harmful ones. It is also recommended to educate staff, parents, and children about the potential hazards of certain plants and how to avoid them.

In conclusion, while plants can be a great addition to play areas, it is essential to prioritize safety and avoid any potentially harmful plants. By doing so, we can create a safe and nurturing environment for young children to learn and grow in.

Here is our list of known plants that existing literature suggests should not be grown or tolerated in pre-school centres.

INTERNAL POISONS - (Harmful if swallowed):

  • Angel’s trumpet (Brugmansia candida) – North Island and warmest parts of South Island

  • Arums and arum lily (Arum species and Zantedeschia aethiopica)

  • Bittersweet (Solanum dulcamara) – mainly South Island and lower North Island

  • Castor Oil (Rcinus communis)

  • Death cap and fly agaric fungi (Agaricus phalloides and A. muscaria)

  • Fox glove (Digitalis purpurea)

  • Hemlock (Conium maculatum)

  • Jerusalem cherry (Solanum diflorum and S. pseudocapsicum)

  • Laburnum (Laburnum anagryoides) – mainly South Island and southern half of North Island

  • Lantana (Lantana camara) – warmer parts of North Island and northern areas of South Island

  • Lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis) – mainly South Island

  • Monkshood (Aconitum napellus) – mainly South Island and colder parts of North Island

  • Oleander (Nerium oleander)

  • Persian lilac or white cedar (Melia azederach) – mainly North Island

  • Potato (Solanum tuberosum) – all green parts

  • Privet species (Ligustrum species)

  • Queen of the night (Cestrum nocturnum) – mainly northern North Island

  • Spindle tree and Japanese spindle tree (Euonymus europaeus and E. japonicus) – latter mainly fruiting in North Island

  • Stinking iris (Iris foetidissima)

  • Tutu (Coriaria species) – nearly always C. arborea

  • Yew (Taxus baccata) – although nearly all parts of both sexes are poisonous, only the berry of the female tree, with its poisonous seed, is likely to be eaten.

EXTERNAL POISONS - (Harmful if touched)

  • Stinging nettles (Urtica species)

  • Wax tree or Japanese wax tree (Rhus succedanea) – mainly North Is. and northern South Is.


Certain very poisonous plants are excluded from the above list because of their rarity in New Zealand, e.g. deadly nightshade* (Atropa bella-donna), bushman’s poison (Acokanthera oppositifolia), henbane (Hyoscyamus niger), and poison ivy (Rhus radicans). Also excluded are poisonous plants which, although common, have no parts likely to attract young children; e.g. hellebores (Helleborus species), box (Buxus sempervirens), and thornapple or datura (Datura stramonium), the last having very poisonous

seeds enclosed in spiny capsules.

Many plants have spiny or prickly vegetative parts but these are not considered to be reason enough to exclude such plants from pre-school education centres. Most of these plants are either not poisonous or not very poisonous; e.g. roses (Rosa species and hybrids), firethorns, (Pyracantha species), hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), gooseberry (Ribes uva-crispa), and holly (Ilex aquifolium).

* True deadly nightshade is extremely rare in New Zealand. Unfortunately, this name is mistakenly applied to black nightshade (Solanum nigrum), the latter having somewhat poisonous green parts and harmless berries. The two are easily distinguished: deadly nightshade is a large plant over a metre high when mature, and has large, bell-shaped, brownish-purple flowers followed by large, egg-shaped black berries. Black nightshade is a much smaller plant (about half the height of deadly nightshade when mature), and has small white star-shaped flowers followed by little black berries, similar to black currants.

Swan plants (Gomphocarpus spp.) are toxic, and swallowing even a small amount could be a problem. Ingestion of the plant material can affect the heart, breathing, central nervous system and the stomach, Young children generally do not regard the plant material as attractive to eat. Because of the educational benefits of teaching children about the lifecycle of the monarch butterfly, swan plants are not on the Landcare Research list of plants that should not be grown or tolerated in New Zealand preschool centres.

For more information contact: The Plant Herbarium, Landcare Research


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