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story.lead_photo.caption Elephant ears are among the plants that cause some people allergic reactions. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/JANET B. CARSON)

Q I read a recent column that mentioned elephant ear plants, and I want to tell you of my medical situation with this poisonous plant. Recently, I developed a painful skin "burning" over most of my body. My primary physician could not diagnose me so he sent me, thankfully the same day, to see an allergy specialist who diagnosed me with elephant ear poisoning. My case was the first one he had ever seen after practicing for several years. However, two days later he saw his second patient in Little Rock with the same problem. That time he was able to test the actual bulb to verify his diagnosis. I have three very large, established elephant ear plants in my yard. One day prior to becoming sick, I cleaned around the plants, removing the dead leaves, etc., while wearing gloves, socks, shoes and pants. It is still a mystery how my bare skin came into contact with the plant. My recovery is continuing except for the small brown "burn looking" spots that the doctor says should disappear in several months. Except for my hands, feet and part of my face, the rest of my body was covered with red "burn looking" skin, and it was extremely painful.

A Elephant ears, along with other members of the arum family — houseplants Dieffenbachia (dumb cane), Spathiphyllum (peace lily) and philodendrons, calla lilies, anthurium and caladiums, along with Italian arum and Jack-in-the-pulpit, all contain crystals of calcium oxalate which can cause burning and swelling of the mouth if eaten, and contact dermatitis in some people sensitive to the sap. In Hawaii, one of the local dishes is Poi, which is made from the taro plant (a type of elephant ear). They have to be cooked in a way that removes the irritant effect. Everyone does not react to plants the same way. Some people can get near poison ivy and break out, and others roll around in it with no effect. My niece's husband had a severe reaction when he pruned his fig tree and got the latex sap on him. Now you know about your reaction to elephant ears and can take precautions. I hope you heal quickly. Thanks for sharing.

Hydrangeas in June. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/JANET B. CARSON)

Q I have an ugly shrub outside of our bedroom that I have finally decided to destroy. What it is, I have no clue. I want to replace it with a hydrangea that I presently have in a large pot. It is a very healthy plant but the blooms are covered with the leaves. My question for you is when is the best time to place it into the ground? (I wrote you earlier about not wanting to lose my paper. We did, in fact, take the iPad. Your Saturday articles were a large factor.)

A The weather is cooling off, and so you can plant the hydrangea now. Just keep it watered. It may wilt and look pitiful for a week or two, but it should bounce back. I am so happy you tried the iPad and hope you are loving it. I have been reading the paper on the iPad for years since I travel so much. You can enlarge the font, and the pictures are so much better. Thanks for being a loyal reader.

The honeydew excreted by crape myrtle felt scale makes bark black. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/JANET B. CARSON)

Q My crepe myrtles have white specks on the limbs and a black substance covering the lower leaves and undergrowth. What can I do?

A Your plants have the crepe myrtle bark scale. This insect is sucking sap from the branches and giving off a sticky sweet substance called honeydew. Where the honeydew lands (on the lower leaves and undergrowth) a black sooty mold grows. Since it is so late in the growing season, my recommendation would be to use a bucket with warm soapy water and a soft brush and clean the stems. The foliage will drop this fall, so just rake that up. Once all the leaves are off, spray with a dormant oil, saturating the stems and trunk. This will kill many of the scale insects. Next March, apply a systemic insecticide such as Imidacloprid around the trunk of the tree. The tree will move the chemical through its system killing the insects as they feed. One application has shown excellent coverage for a minimum of two years. Here is a link to the fact sheet from the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture with more information:

Liatris is a native plant known by the common names blazing star and gayfeather. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette)

Q Can you please identify this plant? It is growing at our farm in our field in Polk County and obviously has been there for a very long time. There is a sea of purple when it is at its peak.

A The plant in question is a great wildflower called Liatris spicata. The common names include blazing star and gayfeather. This native perennial is in the aster family and is fairly tolerant of a wide range of soils but thrives in moist areas in full sun. The spiked blooms flower in the summer and are quite attractive to butterflies. The spikes also make a great dried flower.

To keep strawberry plants from overgrowing their beds, thin them back to their original size after harvest. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/JANET B. CARSON)

Q Three years ago I planted six strawberry plants in a 4-by-4-foot raised bed. Now it's completely full of strawberry plants. I'm going to make the bed bigger. Can I transplant some of these? If so, when?

A As you have learned, strawberry plants are quite prolific. By now, your strawberries have probably set their flower/fruit buds for next spring. When plants are crowded, they set fewer buds, and the resulting fruit is typically smaller due to competition. Fruit rots are more common because of less air circulation with overcrowding. When growing strawberries, it is recommended to thin them out every year immediately after harvest season. You thin them back to almost the same spacing that you started with and then fertilize. They will start producing runners in no time and fill the bed back up. The plants that you remove can be transplanted into other beds — if they are still healthy and thriving. If they are getting weaker and less productive, you may want to sacrifice a few of them. It is not the ideal time to transplant now, but if you were to do some thinning now that might help prevent fruit rots. Then you can start doing it the correct way next spring after harvest.

Retired after 38 years with the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service, Janet Carson ranks among Arkansas' best known horticulture experts. Her blog is at Write to her at P.O. Box 2221, Little Rock, AR 72203 or email

HomeStyle on 09/07/2019

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