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Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Wednesday - September 24, 2008

From: Los Angeles, CA
Region: California
Topic: Cacti and Succulents
Title: Are century plants (Agave spp.) poisonous?
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

About 2 weeks ago, I was poked in the arm by a Century Plant, which caused a pretty big bruise to form. I didn't think much of it at first, but now, 2 weeks later, the bruise hasn't healed at all. Should I be worried? Are they poisonous?

ANSWER:

The Botanical Dermatology Database (BoDD) has this to say about the Family Agavaceae (Agave or Century Plant Family:

"Many instances of irritancy and possibly allergenicity resulting from contact with members of the family have been recorded.  The irritant (micro-traumatic) effects are attributable to minute needle-like crystals of calcium oxalate know as raphides, probably aggravated by steroidal saponins, proteases, and perhaps other constituents of the sap.  The allergens remain to be identified....Additionally, the thorny edges of the leaves as well as the needle-sharp leaf tips of many species are capable of nflictinig mechanical injury (macro-trauma)."

If one of the thorns of the leaf of the century plant broke off in your arm, you may have gotten some of the irritating sap inside the wound and there may even be a small piece of the thorn left within.  Whether or not you were exposed to the sap, puncture wounds of any kind are notorious for becoming infected. This is why it is important to remove the thorn as soon as possible and thoroughly clean the wound. Read what the Mayo Clinic has to say about puncture wounds.  It sounds like it would be a good idea to visit your Dr. to see why the bruise hasn't cleared up by now.

 

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