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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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Friday - May 06, 2011

From: Washington, DC
Region: Mid-Atlantic
Topic: Poisonous Plants
Title: Broad leaved evergreens for DC
Answered by: Anne Bossart

QUESTION:

We are looking for a flowering evergreen shrub, native to the mid-Atlantic, that grows in part shade but will tolerate full sun. We have been researching rhododendrons and azaleas but are concerned about the toxicity of the plants to humans. We have seen a lot of information on their attractiveness and toxicity to animals but are these shrubs a problem to have around small children?

ANSWER:

We understand your concern and you are right that ingestion of Rhododendron maximum (Great laurel) can be dangerous.  Honey made fom the flowers can also be toxic.

Kalmia latifolia (Mountain laurel), another flowering broad leaved evergreen native to your area and suitable for your conditions is also toxic.  Both plants are members of the Heath Family.

That being said, both rhododendrons and mountain laurels are widely used as ornamental landscape plants and there are rarely problems, but if you think you cannot prevent your children from ingesting plant material, you should choose another plant.

If you decide to go with another plant, you can use our Native Plant Database to help with the selection.  Scroll down to Combination Search and select: DC/shrub/part shade and moist soil (if that is what you have) and the size you are looking for.  It will generate a list with links to detailed information pages and more images.  You will find the rhododendron and mountain laurel on that list.

 


Rhododendron maximum


Kalmia latifolia

 

 

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