Did you know the Sago Palm is toxic to pets?

676138.jpg I just received a new edition of my ASPCA newsletter and one article in particular caught my eye. It was about the increased incidence of pets being poisoned by the Sago Palm. This plant can also be quite toxic to young children.

The Sago Palm is common in warm climates, but it’s become more popular in Northern homes as a houseplant. The plant is native to Southern Japan. It’s an attractive plant with dark green leaves and a hairy trunk.

Since 2003, the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center has seen an increase in cases of Sago palm and Cycad poisonings by more than 200 percent. APCC data also reveals that 50 percent to 75 percent of those cases resulted in fatalities.

sago-palm.jpg A chemical in the plant called cycasin is toxic and often causes permanent liver damage as well as neurological damage if enough of the poison is absorbed by the body. The seeds are the most poisonous part of the plant, although all parts of this plant are toxic, and the effects on humans are seizures, coma and death. Of course the seeds are an attractive reddish color so children and possible curious pets might be drawn to the plant.

Clinical signs of toxic poisoning are vomiting, melena (blood in stool), Jaundice, increased thirst, hemorrhagic gastroenteritis, bruising and later liver damage, liver failure and death.

If you have young children or pets in your home and you’d like to check to see if your house or garden plants are toxic you can take a look at this list of Toxic Plants. There’s also a list of non-toxic plants that you might also want to look at if you are planning on adding more plants to your collection.






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Houseplants- swollen leaves and edema

Have you noticed that occasionally some of your plants will get swollen blister like areas on their leaves or fleshy stems? I went through a period of that with one of my Christmas Cactus’ for two years straight. I’m happy to report that it’s not happening this year though.


Sometimes the spots are tan at first or they become dark brown and become wart like. Corky bumps occur most often on the underside of the leaves of succulent plants such as jade plant and peperomia. Of course they could occur these bumps could occur on other plant parts, and on other types of plants as well such as Swedish ivy, schefflera, croton, geranium or begonia.

It this were to continue the leaves will turn yellow and droop, and then fall from the plants. Plants can become spindly and cease to grow as result of this condition which is called edema. It is often found on indoor plants in winter. It’s caused by environmental factors – a build up of water pressure in the leaf tissues will result in dostortion and busting of cells.

Overwatering, high humidity, and low light intensities favor the development of edema. Faulty watering practices, such as allowing plants to dry out completely and then drowning them, encourages it. Avoid overwatering susceptible plants, especially during the winter months when they should be kept slightly on the dry side.

Differences in potting medium, environment, and the individual plant type influence water needs. If the soil feels or looks damp in a pot, don’t water. Allow the soil to dry out somewhat, then water deeply until water drains out of the hole in the pot’s base. This insures that all of the plant’s roots receive water and it leaches out excess minerals accumulated in the soil. Make sure to empty water out of the saucer beneath the plant so the roots do not sit in water.

If edema occurs, keep the relative humidity below 70% in the vicinity of the plants. Improving air flow over the leaves by spacing plants further apart and increasing ventilation will help reduce humidity. Inexpensive humidity meters which can help you monitor the plants’ environment can be bought at garden centers or through catalogs. Moving the plants to a sunny location or adding supplemental artificial lighting is also beneficial.

Leaves showing symptoms of edema will not recover, but you can halt the decline of a plant by improving light and watering less often. Repotting to improve soil drainage may also help. Affected plants often recover from oedema with the return of more favorable growing conditions in spring and early summer, especially if they are placed outside as soon as weather permits.

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Controlling house plant pests

In many parts of North America and other areas of the world gardeners have traded their backyard gardening for indoor houseplant gardening. Bringing some plants in from outdoors, and tending to others that are indoors all year round.

Every home owner who keeps houseplants will encounter, at one time or another the dreaded house plant pests. Little bugs that you can often barely see that start to suck on the leaves or burrow into the stems and cause parts of the plant or the leaves to die. If measures aren’t taken to eradicate these pests quickly a whole plant could die.

There are only five major groups of insect and mite pests on house plants, they are very difficult to control and highly persistent, once established. Not only that- but many types of house plants re sensitive to pesticides when they are used on them, plus pesticides used indoors can be quite dangerous to the home owner, small children and household pets.

The three steps to controlling pests are:

Step 1 . Know how to recognize at least the major insect and mite pests that attack foliage plants: aphids, mealybugs, scale insects, whiteflies, and spider mites.

Step 2. Prevent the introduction of pests into the home or existing plant specimen arrangements:
a) buy or propagate only pest-free plants;
b) keep new plants separated from other plants for 4 to 6 weeks to see if any pest problems develop;
c) carefully inspect all plants at least weekly for signs of insects and mites.

Step 3. If a plant is found to be infested with insects or mites:
a) isolate the plant from other plants;
b) correctly identify the pest;
c) determine and apply appropriate control measures;
d) keep the plant separate from others until all evidence of infestation is eliminated, which may be several weeks or more.

Take Control

There are three popular general methods for treating house plants infestations: physically removing the pests and or washing the plant, general purpose ready to use sprays, and chemical concentrates for preparing spray mixtures.

Physical removal is easy enough for large pests- slugs, caterpillars etc.. Pests can also be swabbed with a small brush or cotton tipped applicator moistened with rubbing alcohol.

You may also opt to rinse or wash plants with a diluted mix of dish detergent soap or an insecticidal soap. Sometimes just placing a plant in your shower stall and gently spraying them with lukewarm water on the tops and undersides of the leaves is enough to rid the plant of an infestation, plus give it a good drink and flush it’s substrate at the same time.

Often the soap sprays or rinses need to be repeated over a period of time to totally rid the plant of pests. I also try to isolate plants that I find are infested – I’ll move them several feet away from uninfected plants at the very least, and often into a totally different room if it’s possible. There’s nothing worse than having several plants infested with pests at the same time.

In your garden centres you’ll find ready to use sprays, but if you go searching for one of these types of sprays make sure it’s labeled that it’s safe for use on house plants. Always read the labels and precautions on any of the ready made sprays that you are planning on using as some sprays are effective only for certain types of insects, while others are only effective when the pests are in certain stages of life.

Whiteflies are very difficult to control with standard sprays, but easily controlled with other sprays that are made specifically for whiteflies. Be sure to follow directions. There are many individual products on the market; be sure to read the label to determine which one to use.

Chemical concentrations are available to mix with water for application with a hand sprayer or mister. Insecticides and/or miticides are available separately or in mixtures. Generally insecticides will not control mites, and miticides will not control insects. Only the appropriate pesticide is needed. The wrong one will not be effective.

Another way to prevent infestations in the first place is to care for the plant properly. Many people end up having white fly and mite infestations on their plants in the winter time. The air is dry in the house and the plants are not kept moist enough. Misting the plants with water sprays a couple times of day or keeping the room they are in adequately humidified should help lower the chance of pest infestations in some plants.

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