How do poisonous plants break down in compost?

Katxena(z7 MD)May 27, 2008

I'm very new to composting, and I use a homemade garbage bin. It seems to be going well so far. I have not harvested any compost yet, but it is breaking down nicely.

My question is about poisonous plants like String of Pearls or Milkweed. I assume that these plants break down like any others in compost, but do the poisonous components also break down completely?

I'm not planning on eating my compost! But I do use it in my veggie garden, so I want to make sure I don't end up poisoning my veggies (or by extension, myself).

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The compounds that make the plants inedible or poisonous break down in the compost, and they can't be taken up by other plants anyway. The only plant I'd be careful with is poison ivy, because the woody parts take a long time to decompose.

Mostly plants use toxins to keep herbivores like us from eating them -- unless we can help with seed distribution. Once the plants are dead, they have no further need for chemical defenses, which nature cleans up as part of the decomposition process.

It's a good question!

    Bookmark   May 27, 2008 at 1:33PM
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Katxena(z7 MD)

Thanks. I'm glad to know I don't have to separate these kinds of plants out from the rest of my compost!

    Bookmark   May 27, 2008 at 6:16PM
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scausey(z6/7 MD)

I wanted to grow some castor bean plants (source for ricin)for quick shade and did a lot of research on them, as they are poisonous. Many sites I found said "do not put castor bean plants in the compost pile, as it will poison your compost." That said, I don't think milkweed would cause any problems. Susan

    Bookmark   May 29, 2008 at 12:59PM
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