ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – Neighbors are worried after finding out the city put poisonous plants in their park, and it wasn’t an accident. City officials said they planted Virginia Creeper vines as part of a water conservation effort, even though it is a toxic plant. Some neighbors claim it’s risking their children’s safety.
Now mixed in with the grass at Zuni park in the heights, the Virginia Creeper is creeping out neighbors.
“They’re dangerous plants for kids, they’re dangerous plants for adults too,” said Lorie Romero, who lives nearby. “The berries were poisonous and can cause death.”
Romero said she learned that after researching the plant when the city placed them there. According to the FDA’s website, a child reportedly died after eating berries from the Virginia Creeper a century ago. Its leaves can also cause skin irritation.
“The berries of the Virginia Creeper are poisonous, the toxicity depends on a number of things, dosage, time of year can even have an impact,” said Joran Viers, the City Forester.
Even so, Viers said it’s not uncommon for landscaping plants to have toxic components. “It’s not a plant that’s unique in that way,” said Viers. “Oak trees if you eat too many acorns, it’s toxic. We have to be aware that we can’t rule out that kind of risk, so we have to educate about it.”
Park officials said the Virginia Creepers at Zuni Park are part of a water conservation experiment to keep water from running down the steep slope surrounding the tennis courts and into the street.
The vines can also be found along walls and fences at Jerry Cline park. The plant is available to the public to place in yards.
“You can buy Virginia Creeper in almost any landscape store,” Viers explained. “They’re quite useful for certain applications if you need an aggressive growing vine that can cover an area, and isn’t going to need a lot of water.”
But Romero worries the ground coverage at Zuni Park is too close to kids and animals.
“You can turn your back and they’ve got something in their mouth,” said Romero. She doesn’t want her 3-year-old grandson mistaking the toxic berries for blueberries.
“My grandson is my world, and I’m sure all these parents feel the same about their kids,” Romero said. “I couldn’t handle something like that, I would sue the city.”
Viers said parents should keep an eye on their kids and tell them about the potential dangers. He pointed out that the plant is along a steep slope near the street, where kids should be supervised.
“We can’t completely eliminate risk, so we can mitigate it,” said Viers. “Especially tell your kids, don’t go out and just graze on the landscape.”
Because of the concerns, the city made a compromise, and is now removing the Virginia Creeper from along the sidewalk. The poisonous vines will stay on the slopes in the park to prevent runoff.
Park officials hope the vines will take over the grass in that area, and save water. Officials said they have no plans on the books for planting more Virginia Creeper in parks so far.
The Virginia Creeper was not planted in the main part of the park where kids play.