May 9, 2015

1 - Cotoneaster plants are common ornamental plants that children should be taught not to eat.

Yard and Garden May 9, 2015


I have seen this shrub before, but do not know what it is? (Photo e-mailed for identification.) A friend said her son ate some of the berries and luckily is OK! She is wondering if she should get rid of this plant. What do you suggest?

-Cibola County


The plant in the pictures you sent is a Cotoneaster. Plants in this genus are in the rose family. It is a common ornamental plant in the rose family and is related to pyracantha, roses, and apples. As you notice some of these plants are edible, however, there is information on the internet that states that the fruit of the cotoneaster is mildly toxic (you have to eat a fairly large quantity relative to body weight) to get sick). The toxic element was not clearly identified in the material I found, but apple seeds and other plants in the rose family contain cyanogenic glycosides, chemical compounds that release cyanide when in contact with stomach acids. In most cases it takes a fairly large quantity to be toxic to an adult. Children with lower body weights than adults will exhibit toxicity at lower doses. The fact that the child is doing well suggests that he did not ingest enough to be toxic. One of the symptoms would be stomach problems.

If your friend's child can be taught that he should not eat the pretty berries (or other parts of this plant) the plant may not need to be removed.

There are many plants grown in landscapes and native environment that have the potential to cause harm if some parts are any part of the plant is eaten. The range of toxicities, the poisonous parts of the plants and the toxic compounds vary greatly. Children should be taught not to eat anything without permission. When my son was very young, he loved to eat in the garden when my wife and I were harvesting vegetables. He loved to eat peas, beans, and other fresh vegetable right in the garden, but he was good about not eating things I told him not to eat, even when he was 3 yrs. old.

Because there are so many things in the garden and nearby environment that can be toxic it may be impossible to remove everything. Education as to what is safe to eat and watching over children in the garden and elsewhere is the best way to provide safety. It may help to provide approved, tasty, edibles that the child is taught are safe to eat. Since some plants are extremely toxic they should be removed or only grown where children will not have access to them when not under the supervision of a knowledgeable adult. The cotoneaster is of low enough toxicity that it should not be a problem unless a child continues to eat its berries. If the child persists in eating things without permission removal of the cotoneaster shrub and other toxic plants from areas to which the child has access may be necessary.

Marisa Y. Thompson, PhD, is the Extension Horticulture Specialist, in the Department of Extension Plant Sciences at the New Mexico State University Los Lunas Agricultural Science Center, email:, office: 505-865-7340, ext. 113.


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