Nandina berries are not very poisonous

Through a good part of my childhood, one voice of authority manifested with equal weight alongside the commandments of my parents: that of Mrs. Mabel Prayor. An older neighbor, she was hired to cook meals, settle arguments, iron clothes and keep the house from burning down while my parents worked hard as a school teacher and chicken farmer.

“Walter, you come from behind the house right now!”, she’d demand from the back door. “Stop feedin’ those berries to your brother! They are pizen! Robert, come here to me this minute and spit those things out before I have to call Mrs. Reeves to take you to the hospital!”

How she knew I was hiding behind the house, force-feeding my brother nandina berries, I cannot say.

She believed that all colorful berries were poisonous…… but that an occasional pinch of Bruton’s snuff behind her bottom lip was tasty stuff.

It took several years of horticulture work before I lost my trepidation regarding bright berries from any landscape plant.

In fact, much to my relief, nandina berries are not particularly dangerous. Nor are those of liriope, viburnum and holly, although all can cause stomach upset when consumed in large quantities.

So follow Mabel’s advice: warn your kids not to eat plant berries….. but if they do, wipe their mouths out and give them a mouthful of water to spit out everything that’s left. Call their doctor if you are worried but these references will reassure you.

Georgia Poison Control Center

Poisonous Plants in the Landscape – UGA

Poisonous Plants of North Carolina

Texas Poisonous Plants

Holiday Plants – Not Very Toxic

Cornell Poisonous Plants to Livestock

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