Artemisias

There are many beautiful species that have a place in your garden

By Willi Evans Galloway

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There is a wide, wide world of artemisias, and some of the 300 species are poisonous. Various species of artemisia can cause skin irritation, nervous disorders, and hallucination, among other problems. Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) is a popular ornamental, and its essential oils have historically been used in the liqueur absinthe. This bitter-tasting drink, favored by the likes of Vincent van Gogh, has been banned in many countries (including the United States) because of addiction and health concerns. A. schmidtiana 'Silver Mound', another popular ornamental variety, can be toxic to pets. Gardeners should be careful with plants that have toxic properties but also understand that poisonous is a broad term used to describe plants that cause everything from a mild rash to death.

To slightly confuse matters, not all artemisias are poisonous. In fact, tarragon (A. dracunculus) is a very popular (and edible) herb. So where does this leave you and your garden? "To be safe, I would suggest that gardeners not plant artemisias other than tarragon in areas with edible crops. As long as gardeners do not ingest any plant part or product of artemisia, they shouldn't have any problems in the garden," says Richard Hawke, plant evaluation manager at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Hawke also warns gardeners to "not use any homemade insect repellent made from artemisia on their food crops." So be careful, but do not be afraid to plant artemisias. There are many beautiful species that have a place in your garden even if they can't be used in edible landscaping.

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