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, 125 (1367), 87-118

Poisonous Plants in New Zealand: A Review of Those That Are Most Commonly Enquired About to the National Poisons Centre

  • PMID: 23321887

Poisonous Plants in New Zealand: A Review of Those That Are Most Commonly Enquired About to the National Poisons Centre

Robin J Slaughter et al. N Z Med J.


Introduction: New Zealand has a number of plants, both native and introduced, contact with which can lead to poisoning. The New Zealand National Poisons Centre (NZNPC) frequently receives enquiries regarding exposures to poisonous plants. Poisonous plants can cause harm following inadvertent ingestion, via skin contact, eye exposures or inhalation of sawdust or smoked plant matter.

Aim: The purpose of this article is to determine the 15 most common poisonous plant enquiries to the NZNPC and provide a review of current literature, discussing the symptoms that might arise upon exposure to these poisonous plants and the recommended medical management of such poisonings.

Methods: Call data from the NZNPC telephone collection databases regarding human plant exposures between 2003 and 2010 were analysed retrospectively. The most common plants causing human poisoning were selected as the basis for this review. An extensive literature review was also performed by systematically searching OVID MEDLINE, ISI Web of Science, Scopus and Google Scholar. Further information was obtained from book chapters, relevant news reports and web material.

Results: For the years 2003-2010 inclusive, a total of 256,969 enquiries were received by the NZNPC. Of these enquiries, 11,049 involved exposures to plants and fungi. The most common poisonous plant enquiries, in decreasing order of frequency, were: black nightshade (Solanum nigrum), arum lily (Zantedeschia aethiopica), kowhai (Sophora spp.), euphorbia (Euphorbia spp.), peace lily (Spathiphyllum spp.), agapanthus (Agapanthus spp.), stinking iris (Iris foetidissima), rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum), taro (Colocasia esculentum), oleander (Nerium oleander), daffodil (Narcissus spp.), hemlock (Conium maculatum), karaka (Corynocarpus laevigatus), foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) and ongaonga/New Zealand tree nettle (Urtica ferox). The combined total of enquiries for these 15 species was 2754 calls (representing approximately 25% of all enquiries regarding plant exposures). The signs and symptoms resulting from poisoning from these plants are discussed. Medical treatment recommendations are made.

Conclusion: Poisoning following ingestion or other forms of exposures to plants in New Zealand is relatively common, particularly among children. However, serious adverse reactions are comparatively rare. Accurate plant identification and details on the type of exposure can be important in assessing the likely risks. Effective medical management of these poisonings can be achieved by following the principles outlined in this review.

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