Stop the dumb lists

Poisonous plant, to be avoided

Certain garden-related websites (and I use the term loosely) like to send out annotated lists—top ten this, ten worst that, six ways to do such and such. And the most disturbing mini-trend in this listicle clickbait is the alarmist listing of “Ten Plants You Should Never Grow,” or (from an eblast I just got) “The Worst Plants for Your Yard.”

There are rarely, if ever, any trusted gardening authorities or scientific studies cited as backup for these lists. No, just phrases like “the consensus is,” “generally speaking,” “studies have shown” (with no link to any), and “gardeners cite.”

You can rest assured that there will always be one or two plants that you’ve never thought would cause any problems and that a plant you’ve been coaxing along for two or three years will be called wildly invasive. The other thing these listmakers love is POISON. Beware! You and your pets are in danger! If you’re snacking on your herbaceous border, you do have some issues that should be addressed, but, as most gardeners know, many common perennials have some degree of toxicity. Fortunately, we and our pets are unlikely to be eating them, or eating them in the quantities needed for any ill effects.

The most recent list I saw (which I will not link to, or to any others) had, as its first direly awful plant, drum roll … ajuga. Really? That’s number one? Oh, but it spreads so vigorously as to “disqualify it for landscape use.” Coulda fooled me. I have several ajuga hybrids I have been trying to use a ground cover in dry shade. I’ve been trying for a while now.

Ajuga may very well be a problem in certain zones, but that’s the other thing with these lists; hardiness zones are never mentioned. The listmakers are assuming a universal authority that pertains over anyone gardening anywhere. Which is ridiculous. They also don’t get into differences between hybrids.

Sadly, I am sure newbie and other gardeners are seeing and believing these and other, sweepingly general lists. Not that certain plants aren’t recommended in a given situation. It’s just that there are better, more responsible ways to educate about them.

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Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. Three foods cardiologists say you should never eat! Top five foods that cause belly fat! As long as there are people that don’t really want to investigate (LOTS of them) and that believe everything they read (again many), then these lists will flourish as long as they can get people to click on them so the owner earns advertising dollars.

  2. Right on! This whole topic irks me too! I love the lists that suggest putting a pot of lavender in their bedroom to help people sleep. Most bedrooms do not have the conditions to grow lavender. On a similar note, I sell my plants on a certain online selling platform and all my Hellebore plants were removed from the website by the administrator. The reason being, the site administrator learned that Hellebores are toxic. Like everyone is going to munch on their Hellebores.

  3. I couldn’t agree more. Ajuga? Invasive? Never even flourished in my garden!
    I suppose there’s no way to screen this stuff, but as a Master Gardener I tell my audiences to look for “dot edu” sites from schools nearby, and other reliable sources such as the Missouri Botanical Garden’s invaluable web site.

  4. As a someone who does a lot of landscape design and consultations, I’m often asked to avoid adding any poisonous plants. I usually point out that the existing yard is already full of poisonous plants, and yet their dog/cat/kid isn’t dead yet! Good thing most poisonous plants don’t taste very good.

    • I used to be worried about toxic garden plants. Then I remembered that my preschoolers have to be bribed, tricked and threatened into eating anything green. Yeah, they’re pretty safe around my foxgloves.

  5. Like the author, I’m well annoyed by all the nonsense “gardening information” out on the internet. However, these listicles are doing something that the more reputable sources are failing to do: they’re actually getting people to click on and read them.

    If we want audiences to read and value good information – our industry has to make it engaging. Maybe listicles aren’t the most sophisticated format, but people read them. I have a challenge for all you ranters…write up something that YOU want to click on and read more than “”Six Common Plants More Toxic Than Roundup”…

    • Wow, your challenge sure got MY attention! You’re right that accurate information still has to get people’s attention – and Google’s attention, too – and there’s nothing inherently wrong with lists, after all. Just bogus content.

  6. Ajuga is shortlived for me! Wish I didn’t have to replace it every few years…

    AND the invasive police do not acknowledge or take note or recommend sterile cultivars, even if the plant provides good wildlife benefit. Wonder about their real motives sometimes. Commercial? I notice a lot of them have native plant nurseries, hmmmm…

    • The main website I was referencing exists only to make money from clicks and ads, as far as I can tell. There seems to be no other motivation. I am not sure their writers would be able to ID a native plant.

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