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Who Is Mr. Yuk?

Digitalis purpurea or foxglove, pink tubular flowers. Green Mr Yuk face overlaid

If you've attended the plant sale over the past 10 years, you might have noticed a green, frowning face on the signs for some plants. That face, known as the Mr. Yuk symbol, indicates the plant is poisionous to humans. Sara Barsel is the volunteer responsible for the Mr. Yuk campaign.

Sara has volunteered with the plant sale for over a decade. Prior to starting the Mr. Yuk program, Sara noticed many plant sale shoppers with kids and dogs in tow, who were selecting plants that could be both toxic and attractive to children and pets. Sara's ethic of responsible gardening and passion for education led her start the Mr. Yuk campaign. 

"I've been a teacher and I know that kids put stuff in their mouths," she said. "It's important for people to know the consequences of what they are buying."

Sara assesses each new plant that's added to the plant sale catalog, as well all plants flagged with the Mr. Yuk symbol during previous sales. As a scientist with a Ph.D in genetics and a masters of science in botany, Sara brings a scholarly approach to her work. She weighs the research available from a variety of sources before presenting her findings to the Plant Sale Planning Committee. She estimates she spends between 60 and 100 hours each year reviewing plants.

"It's one thing for an adult to make a choice to tend a poisionous plant, but some plants like baneberry (Actaea pachypoda) are very attractive to kids. We need to be responsible for what we plant in areas accessible to children and pets."

Sara maintains a large garden in her Roseville neighborhood. She cultivates plants that will attract polinators, butterflies, birds, and neighbors. Her garden is full of edible fruits and vegetables and native wildflowers and shrubs.

"When I first started gardening I overheard two elderly ladies talking as they slowly walked past the garden. One said 'This garden is a reason to visit.'

"I will always maintain the garden for that. The garden is a focal point for conversation. People who wouldn't talk to me do so because of the garden."

To learn more about Mr. Yuk and plant safety, check out Sara's articles, Some Thoughts on Responsible Gardening from Mr. Yuk and Poisonous Plants: A Few Words from Mr. Yuk. And watch for the Mr. Yuk symbols when making your plant-buying decisions.


Photo of the highly toxic common foxglove, Digitalis purpurea, by jcart1534, Wikimedia Commons

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