Nayantara flower (Catharanthus roseus), Sylhet, Bangladesh.
Getty Images
December 15, 2015 4:52 AM EST

A campaign by the Hong Kong government to promote love of nature among children of kindergarten age has run into criticism, after it emerged that the youngsters were being asked to raise a pretty but toxic plant.

The city’s Leisure and Cultural Services Department chose Catharanthus roseus — commonly known as the Madagascar periwinkle — for its “One Person, One Flower” campaign, according to local news website EJ Insight. The problem? The flower is poisonous, and a local kindergarten raised the alarm when it realized that small children could easily mishandle or ingest topic parts of the plant.

Dr. Tse Man-li of the Hong Kong Poison Centre told EJ Insight that Catharanthus roseus was poisonous if consumed, and that any absorption by human skin of the milky-white sap from its broken stem could cause rashes and swelling. The plant has also been known to poison grazing animals and can even produce hallucinations.

The department has not yet commented on the gaffe.

[EJ Insight]

Write to Rishi Iyengar at

Read More From TIME

Related Stories