David Beeson, 12th July 2020
Now, I should know better. I write articles on plant toxicology and specifically know that euphorbias are poisonous … yet, I can be amazingly thick / uncareful at times.
It was time to cut back some ‘spent’ plants in the garden. It’s a big area for the UK – 1.25 acres, so bigger than a football pitch and its immediate surroundings. Annette and I maintain it as ecologically wide and botanically diverse a garden as possible … so, there is deadly nightshade, monk’s hood, foxgloves and spurges – euphorbias. All known to be toxic, as are runner beans if uncooked … honestly, do not eat them raw.
Some gardeners wear gloves when working. I’m not one of them. Some wear goggles, yet I have glasses … so, not that either.
With pollen levels still elevated my eyes suffer until I take an anti-histamine tablet. They water with tear fluid. Yesterday having finished my tidying (the last plant being a euphorbia) and with sticky hands from the miniscule volume of sap that remained on the secateurs, I washed my hands … presumably not well enough. I rubbed my eyes, relented, and went for an anti-histamine tablet.
Within minutes my eyes were even more filled with tear fluid, the sunlight felt too intense and my eyes pained considerably. I had to escape eventually to an almost enclosed room and, even so, put on darkened glasses. My eyes refused to open and the urge to sleep was considerable … I mostly slept for the next 18 hours. An eye bath, cold water and an attentive wife had little effect for several hours. My eyes eventually started to improve (with less pain) and could be opened after about six hours.
It is only today that I managed to research euphorbia toxin effects as I could see no other easy explanation. It looks a good match.
From the web:
The milky sap or latex of Euphorbia plant is highly toxic and an irritant to the skin and eye. This report illustrates the spectrum of ocular inflammation caused by accidental inoculation of latex of Euphorbia plant. Three patients presented with accidental ocular exposure to the milky sap of Euphorbia species of recent onset. The initial symptoms in all cases were severe burning sensation with blurring of vision. Visual acuity reduced from 20/60 to counting fingers. Clinical findings varied from kerato-conjunctivitis, mild to severe corneal oedema, epithelial defects, anterior uveitis and secondary elevated intraocular pressure. All symptoms and signs had resolved by 10-14 days with active supportive medication. People who handle Euphorbia plants should wear eye protection. It is always advisable to ask the patient to bring a sample of the plant for identification.
I have gardened with euphorbias for 50 years and understood their sap’s effects. Here the dose must have been low, yet accompanied by the hay fever effect had a significant impact.
My eyes feel normal today, the future will involve rather more caution when tacking this plant!
Watch out. Plants can bite back.