The Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD) came under fire for urging schoolchildren to plant and grow a potentially poisonous flower as part of a program to promote a “green culture” among students.
For the schoolyear 2015-1016, the department has chosen Catharanthus roseus, commonly known as periwinkle, as the theme flower for its “One Person, One Flower” scheme.
Under the program, schoolchildren are supposed to cultivate the chosen flower at home with the help of their parents.
But at least one school, Pods Kindergarten in North Point, has raised concerns over the choice of the flower, saying it could lead to poisoning when ingested, sniffed or handled, Apple Daily reported on Friday.
In a circular, Pods told parents to consider not joining the activity, or if they choose to participate, to exercise great caution in handling the plant.
Parents and their children should wear gloves when planting or tending periwinkles and wash their hands thoroughly afterwards.
The LCSD has given out instructions and precautions on how to handle the plant in its promotional materials.
But parents said the department should not even have chosen the flower for the program in the first place because of the potential harm that it could cause to participating parents and schoolchildren.
They urged the LCSD to cancel the program, or choose another theme flower for the scheme.
The department has yet to comment on the issue.
Dr. Tse Man-li, consultant at the Hong Kong Poison Information Centre under the Hospital Authority, said periwinkle is not a highly dangerous plant as its toxicity is far less than that of other species of plants from the Apocynaceae (Dogbane) family.
As long as it is not consumed, it wouldn’t lead to poisoning in humans, Tse said.
However, he said no one could rule out the possibility that kindergarten children might ingest the plant, although so far he hasn’t heard of any case of periwinkle poisoning due to ingestion.
Tse confirmed that periwinkle, like other species in the Apocynaceae family, can cause allergies.
Some people have shown red and swollen skin after coming into contact with the milky latex flowing from a broken stem of the plant, he said.
The “One Person, One Flower” scheme is open to all registered kindergartens as well as primary, secondary and special schools.
The program aims to cultivate the interest of students in growing plants and raise their community awareness.
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