Archived Articles : Toxic Plant Warning

Beware The Cape Lilac  

Recently we were minding Shredder and his 5 companions while his owners were on hoilday. The ferrets were placed in the outside enclosure for leisure time daily, and were fed a diet of Di-Vetelact, biscuits and kennel mix. They were in very good condition and approached their food in a leisurely manner.  

On April 18th Shredder was noticed to be lethargic and he looked "sucked out" in the tummy. Shredder drank
Di-Vetelact, but he was not interested in the biscuits. We remembered he had also been less active than usual the previous day. While the other 5 ferrets were placed outside, Shredder remained under observation.  

While we cleaned the cage, Shredder made a number of backing motions into the corners of the cage but nothing happened. When we replaced the sandtray he jumped in and after some straining, accompanied by some grunting, passed a dark tarry stool.  

We offered Shredder some chicken which he would not eat, then some Heinz Chicken Broth. He was enticed to eat that and managed to playfully bite my nose, (not hard) but was still not his usual self. We left Shredder curled up in his cage, but when we checked on him later, he had vomited up everything he had eaten.  

Shredder woke up and jumped in the sandtray and after some effort passed a watery motion with a lump in it. After some poking we decided this was more than a normal lump. After washing it we discovered it was a sort of woody lump with grooves.  
The Cape Lilac came under suspicion and after breaking open one of the fruit, we found an identical lump to Shredder's mystery lump. These trees are very common around the suburbs of Perth and in some suburbs are used as street trees.  

The tree is deciduous in winter and spring, and when flowering has small lilac coloured flowers. Fruit develops following the flowering and hang down from the branches. The fruit is green when unripe but will later turn a dull yellow colour and develop a shrivelled appearance. The fruit itself consists of a fleshy pulp which covers a hard, grooved stone.  

The fruit of this tree is known to be toxic in humans, pigs, sheep, cattle, ducks and children- who have died after eating 6 - 8 ripe fruits of the African variety of this tree. The toxic dose for pigs has been estimated to be about 0.5% of body weight.  

Following this discovery we rang the Poison Information Centre. They explained the tree was poisonous due to being an irritant. I asked if milk would be good to try and they said yes. We started Shredder on Di-Vetelact each hour (not too much in case he vomited). The next day we started to introduce some solid foods. He has since made a complete recovery.  

We have used the ouside enclosure for our ferrets for about 3 years and never had any problems with the ferrets eating the berries. Shredder's owners advised me that he likes to eat capsicums from the bush at home, so perhaps this explains why he ate from our tree.  


The scientific name for this tree is Melia Azedarach L. var Australasica. Other names are White Cedar.
The Melia Azedarach, also known as the Chinaberry, also has berries which are poisonous.  


Article Published in Issue 53 of Ferreting Around (May / June 1993)