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Sharp Health News

Beautifully dangerous plants

April 16, 2019

Beautifully dangerous plants

Sheryl Roush (left) and Dr. Janna Villano, an emergency medicine doctor affiliated with Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center.

It was the perfect day for gardening; a few days before the start of spring and Chula Vista resident Sheryl Roush decided to spend the afternoon trimming back her brugmansia plant, otherwise known as angel's trumpet. What she didn't expect that day was to lose sight in one eye.

"With the recent rain, my angel's trumpet plant was really taking off with its beautiful, fragrant flowers and it really needed to be trimmed back," says Roush. "I had no idea the plant was toxic."

Angel's trumpet
Vibrant flowers from Sheryl Roush's angel's trumpet tree.

After finishing in the garden, Roush remembers returning to her house, washing her hands and rubbing one eye. That eye quickly became fully dilated and caused Sheryl to lose her sight almost immediately. Soon after she was in the emergency department at Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center.

"Because she had a dilated pupil, Sheryl was right to come to the emergency department, as this symptom could be indicative of a stroke," explains Dr. Janna Villano, emergency medicine physician at Sharp Chula Vista. "However, in this instance Sheryl's pupil dilated because it was exposed to the toxins within the plant, after she rubbed her eye."

According to Dr. Villano, all parts of the angel's trumpet — including the flower, leaves, seeds and stem — contain a toxin called scopolamine that can cause serious poisoning to humans and pets. In addition to eye dilation and blurry vision, other symptoms can be caused by exposure to the toxin, especially if the plant is ingested, including:
  • Muscle weakness
  • Dry mouth
  • Rapid pulse
  • Elevated temperature
  • Hallucinations
  • Hot, dry skin
  • Urinary retention
"The seed pods and flower pose the greatest risk of accidental poisoning as they are not only visually appealing to children and pets, but they also contain the highest concentration of the toxic compounds," says Dr. Villano.

There is no treatment; only time can heal the damage. You can, however, prevent exposure to the plant by following these precautions:
  • Wear protective clothing when handling the plant, including goggles, long-sleeved shirts and gloves.
  • Always rake up and discard the pruned pieces immediately.
  • Thoroughly wash equipment used to maintain the angel's trumpet to avoid contaminating other edible plants.
While many plants in San Diego county are beautiful, it's important to know that some can be dangerous as well. Before you begin your landscape design this spring, be sure to research the plants you're picking up at the store to ensure they're safe for everyone in the family to enjoy.

For the news media: To talk with Dr. Janna Villano or Sheryl Roush about the angel's trumpet plant for an upcoming story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at erica.carlson@sharp.com.

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