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Plant and Gardening Myths and Misconceptions


“Deer-Proof” Plants

Deer-proof? Don’t we wish. There is no such thing as a completely deer-proof plant. Deer-resistant plants, on the other hand, do seem to exist, but even still, a plant that is deer-resistant in one area may not be resistant in another. Deer, like us, have a taste for some things, and not others, and will try to stick to their favorite foods if they are available; however, in areas where competition is high for a limited amount of food, deer won’t turn their noses up at anything. If your garden is suffering due to deer browsing, the only effective method to keep them out is installing a fence.

Perennials Won't Come Up First Year

This might have been one of the first things you were told when planting your first flower bulbs. It’s not necessarily true. Lilies, gladiolas, irises—when planted at the correct depth, in the correct amount of light, at the correct time in nutritious soil, you can expect many of of them to pop up just fine. Just be sure to follow the directions provided with your bulbs or do a little research on your own to make sure that you are planting them at the right time.

Poison Ivy is Contagious

No, no, no. The unfortunate and painful reaction skin has to poison ivy only occurs upon exposure to the urushiol oil on poison ivy leaves. The myth of poison ivy rash spreading and affecting others is probably because it may take a few days for a rash to develop after exposure. The rash appears to spring up in patches and “spread,” but it will only show up where urushiol oil has come into contact with the skin. Exposure to this oil, however, can occur indirectly via exposure to urushiol on the clothes or an object you’ve handled. In this way, it may be possible to “spread” poison ivy to someone else, so if you suspect that clothes, furniture, or anything someone might touch has been exposed to poison ivy, wash them immediately if possible. If you have already developed poison ivy rash, don’t worry. By the time you’ve developed the rash, the oil is absorbed, and you pose no harm to anyone.

Moss Only Grows on the North Side of Trees

Moss grows on every side of a tree, so long as it’s the shady side. This myth is based on the position of the sun in relation to where you live, and where it would place the shady side of the tree. But, in an extremely wooded and shady area, you could find moss anywhere.

The "Curry Plant"

This is a trick your local nursery or garden center might play on you. Walking along the herb and vegetable section, you might find a little plant that, though looking a lot like rosemary, smells radically different. In fact, it smells exactly like curry. It will be labeled curry and everything. You’ll rush over to the register and buy several of them with dreams of delicious Indian cuisine in your head.

Here’s the thing: there isn’t really a curry plant, and that plant isn’t edible.

Helichrysum italicum is the plant that you’ve purchased, and while it does smell exactly like a tasty curry dish, it’s not where curry comes from. Curry is a blend of spices that varies from region to region, and not something that comes from one single plant. The closest thing to a “curry plant” is Murraya koenigii, commonly called the curry tree. Its leaves are used to flavor many dishes, usually curries. But, don’t be upset. Your curry plant makes a fragrant dried plant for arrangements and potpourris, and will produce clusters of bright yellow flowers that retain their color when picked.

Ants Cause Peonies to Bloom

Peonies are gorgeous, fragrant, and an excellent cut flower for the home—it’s a shame that we are too afraid to bring them inside because of the eight billion ants buried in their petals. Many people believe that the reason peonies are always crawling with ants is that the buds can’t bloom unless ant activity opens them. This isn’t true. Peonies can open with or without ants. Ants are simply attracted to the snacking opportunity afforded them by the sweet nectar exuded by peony buds. Have no fear about your own peonies, though. The ants don’t do anything to damage the plant.

Death by Poinsettia

Cat owners beware! One nibble during the month of December, and Fluffy will be in the emergency pet hospital with three paws in the grave. Poinsettias have suffered a bad rap for a long time, and while they are certainly “poisonous,” we shouldn’t confuse the word with “fatal.” We aren’t saying you should let pets or children hang out unsupervised and suck on poinsettia leaves, but should your kitty take it upon himself to do a little chewing, he isn’t going to die. Ingestion of poinsettia will make him feel sick to his stomach, and exposure to the sap can give him a rash, but unless a large amount is consumed, he should walk away with all nine lives intact. On the other hand, the mistletoe, holly, and amaryllis frequently seen in holiday arrangements can be very toxic to a cat, so please exercise caution.