Poisonous Plants This Publication Describes Anr Catalog

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ANR Publication 8560 | April 2016
Poisonous Plants
JUDITH A. ALSOP, Director,
Sacramento Division California
T his publication describes typical adverse symptoms and health effects
that selected common poisonous plants and plant parts can cause in
people. It also includes a table of poisonous plants commonly found around
Poison Control System (retired);
Clinical Professor of Medicine, VCF, the home and garden and explains how to make a plant identification file

UC Davis School of Medicine; and Plants associated with poisonings and other health problems that have been
Health Sciences Clinical Professor, frequently reported throughout the state to the California Poison Control
UC San Francisco School of System are listed. Plant species that can cause dermatitis
Pharmacy; and
(an inflammation or swelling of the skin) or other form of
JOHN F. KARLIK, Advisor,
Environmental Horticulture and poisoning, as reported by other reliable sources, are also included

Environmental Science, University The table in this publication lists plants alphabetically by scientific name to
of California Cooperative avoid confusion that sometimes occurs with use of common names. We include
Extension, Kern County common names of plants and, for most plants, the following toxicity information:
the name of the toxin, which part of the plant contains the toxin, and the human
body part or parts that are affected by the toxin. Note that the publication does not
include all known poisonous plants that could be found in California gardens or
landscapes, only those commonly found in these settings and that are toxic in some
way to people. Some of the plants listed in this publication are quite toxic to animals

Animal genera and species vary in their sensitivity to the respective poisonous
components. Livestock injury and mortality from ingestion of poisonous plants are
well documented, with an extensive research base. However, a discussion of plant
toxicity to livestock or other domestic animals is outside the scope of this publication

Sources used in compiling this information include California Poison Control
Center data, textbooks, scientific journal articles, and field guides. A bibliography at
the end of the publication provides reference materials

ANR Publication 8560 | Poisonous Plants | April 2016 | 2
Poisonous Landscape and Garden Plants and Symptoms What to Do If Plant Poisoning Is Suspected
Resulting from Poisoning If you suspect that someone has been poisoned by a plant, telephone
Many hundreds of species of poisonous plants grow in the United your doctor or the Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222. The
States. Some of the most beautiful trees, shrubs, vegetables, and information you provide about the plant that was consumed will
vines are poisonous under certain conditions. They provide shade, help a health professional determine the proper treatment. If you are
colorful flowers, or food, but parts of the plant (sap, leaves, seed, advised to go to the hospital, take a sample of the plant with you, if
flowers, stems) may also contain toxic compounds. Some poisonous possible

plants have substances that irritate the skin or mouth and cause Eating any wild mushrooms collected outdoors is potentially
stomach upset, while others can cause vomiting or diarrhea. Skin dangerous. Call the Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222 even
rashes are one of the most common health complaints that arise if you only suspect that someone has eaten a mushroom. Never
from handling certain plants, but fatalities can occur when toxin- just wait and see. Don’t guess that everything is okay because no
containing plants or plant parts are ingested. Some of the very toxic symptoms have developed. After a poisoning, symptoms may not
plants also taste very bitter, possibly reducing the risk of poisoning, appear until many hours later

but there are no simple tests to identify which plants are poisonous

Do not assume a plant is nontoxic because birds or animals eat it Preventing Plant Poisoning
without harmful effects. Eating a small amount of a poisonous plant Plant poisoning can be prevented. If you employ practical
may not be a problem, but large or repeated small doses could cause prevention measures, such as storing bulbs and seeds where
toxic symptoms. The signs of poisoning may not appear for many children cannot reach them, keeping house plants out of reach,
hours after tasting, chewing, or swallowing poisonous plant parts. and teaching children about poisonous plants, you can prevent
Some of the most poisonous plants also can be sources of valuable most problems. Do not use plant branches as sticks for roasting
pharmaceuticals. For example, digitalis, which is derived from the hot dogs or marshmallows unless you are sure that the plant from
leaves and seeds of foxglove (Digitalis purpurea), was originally used to which they were taken is safe. For example, oleanders are common
strengthen the heartbeat of an ill person. However, poisonous plants or landscape shrubs that contain a poisonous principle, making their
their toxicants may be inadvertently introduced at home via medicinal leaves and stems very toxic, so oleander wood should never be used
teas and homemade medicines. Heating or cooking does not necessarily as barbequing skewers. If you develop the plant identification file
reduce or eliminate the toxins in plants or mushrooms. Herbal described below, you will know which plants are poisonous

remedies may have undesirable side effects and may contain varying Children are the most frequent victims of plant poisoning,
concentrations of bioactive compounds. Therefore, self-treatment with making up two-thirds of calls to poison centers regarding plant
plant parts or homemade teas from plants must be strongly discouraged exposures. Thus, it is critical to watch children when they are playing
and such treatments could be fatal. or otherwise have access to any poisonous plants in the home, garden,
Although many plants contain significant amounts of natural or other public areas where plants are grown (relatives’ homes,
toxins, these plants need not always be eliminated from the home parks, school yards, church, etc.). It is critical to teach children that
or garden. It does mean that homeowners should be prepared to plants are beautiful but should not be eaten, and some should not
identify all plants on their property. Homeowners should also be touched, either. Children should be told not to eat garden seeds,
know which plants found in their landscape could be toxic in some berries, mushrooms, or leaves from any plant at any time, even if
way and, ideally, should have some knowledge of the symptoms others dare them to do so. They should also not suck on the flowers,
associated with these poisonous plants. unless an adult verifies that the plant is not toxic

ANR Publication 8560 | Poisonous Plants | April 2016 | 3
Keeping Plant Identification Records indelible marker to write the names of the plants on the back
Each year about 70,000 people call poison control centers across the of printed photos or create a digital photo album with the plant
United States about plant and mushroom exposures, and one in four name placed in the caption for each photo. Keep the photos in
plant calls to poison centers nationwide involves an exposure to a plant your plant identification file. Let relatives and babysitters know
of unknown identity. Without knowing the name of the plant, poison about the file, its location, and how to access it

center staff cannot provide accurate information regarding toxicity

Plants and Their Toxic Principles
• Create a hard copy or a computer file list called “Plants:
Identification.” Keep it with your important papers or store it Toxicology is the study of poisons and how they affect living
in your computer. Enter the telephone number of the Poison organisms. People and animals are continually exposed to toxic
Control Center (1-800-222-1222) in your file and in the front principles in the environment, which include specific chemical
cover of your telephone book. elements, chemical compounds, and radiation. The toxic principles
of plants are usually chemical compounds manufactured by and
• Use the scientific or botanical name to record plant identity

found within the plant. As a basic principle of toxicology, it is the
Common names may refer to several different plants that may
dose that often determines whether toxicity will occur

not be related

Whether specific chemical compound is toxic is affected by
• Keep a copy of the identification tags from the plants you buy
several factors, such as the following:
and put them directly into your plant identification file. Keep the
original identifying tag attached to the plant for quick reference. • potency of the toxicant (activity per gram, often considered
Make a diagram of your landscape with its plants identified. relative to the mass, or weight, of a person or animal)
• To identify plants already in your home or garden, consult • concentration of the toxicant in the plant part
resources such as the Sunset Western Garden Book, contact • route of exposure (oral, dermal, inhalation)
a California Certified Nursery Professional (CCNPro) at a • dose (amount) received
local retail nursery or garden center, or contact your local UC
• amount absorbed
Cooperative Extension county office for help in identifying your
plants. Bringing the plant or as many plant parts as possible (not • overall sensitivity of the person to the toxicant
just one leaf or one berry) to a retail nursery or a UC Cooperative • mode of action of the toxicant
Extension office is perhaps the best way to identify a plant. • organ or system affected within the person
Calling over the phone and trying to describe a plant can result in
A plant species may contain several types of chemically
serious and potentially life-threatening errors in identification

unrelated toxic compounds, often referred to as toxic principles

• Taking a photo of the entire plant and a close-up of leaves and/or Many of these poisonous compounds have been studied and
berries or flower with a digital camera or cell phone camera and identified, while others are not well understood

e-mailing the picture to a plant expert may be another alternative
Although it may be known that ingestion of a specific plant
if you cannot take the actual plant in for identification

genus or species results in injury, a specific chemical compound
• Once the plants have been identified, take photographs of them. may not have been identified. Taxonomic relationships of plants
Use a flash both indoors and out to fill in shadows. The best may be helpful in evaluating the potential for toxicity. However,
outdoor light for taking identification photographs occurs early even among plants of the same species, variability in chemical
in the morning, late in the afternoon, or on cloudy days. Use an concentration can occur

ANR Publication 8560 | Poisonous Plants | April 2016 | 4
The amount of a toxin found in a plant may vary according Toxins classified based on the nature of a chemical reaction or
to several factors. The concentration of plant toxins can vary similarity to a chemical class include the following:
in different parts of the plant. Some plants concentrate toxic • Alkaloids, which are alkali-like. They can form salts upon
compounds in the seed but not the leaves; in others, unripe fruit reaction with acids and act as bases in reactions. They usually
may be toxic but not ripened fruit; in others, such as oleander have a bitter taste, as do true alkalis

(Nerium oleander), all plant parts are toxic. Geographic location, • Glycosides, which yield one or more sugars if the molecule
time of year, and growing conditions of the plant may influence the is cleaved. The toxic principle is the nonsugar portion of the
concentration of toxic compounds. For example, nitrate toxicity is molecule

affected by plant water stress

• Oxalates, which are salts of oxalic acid. The oxalate ion is
In addition, distinguish between hazard and risk. Hazard is the responsible for the toxic effects

nature of an event, such as plant poisoning. Risk is the likelihood of
• Saponins, which are large molecules that form a soap-like froth
such an event, which may be affected by where the plant is located,
when shaken in water

the height of the plant, access of people to the plant, ages of people,
and so forth. Toxins classified based on the effect on an organ system include the
Toxins Found in Plants • Cardiac glycoside, which affects the heart

Toxins found in plants may be described in several ways. In • Cyanogenic glycoside, which yields hydrocyanic acid (hydrogen
some cases the poisonous component has been identified and its cyanide), which prevents respiration at the cellular level

molecular formula and structure determined; for these, the chemical
may be named. Some toxicants may be classified based on their Toxins classified based on the specific chemical include the following:
structure or presence of a functional group, for example, steroid, • Ricin, of castor bean, is well studied, a protein of more than 100
pyridine, or glycoside. Some compounds may be described in terms amino acids

of the organ system affected, for example, cardiac. A more specific • Oleandrin, found in oleander, is a modified steroid

description of compounds may not be available (e.g., a resin), or • Cochicine is also well studied, since it affects a later stage of cell
the biochemical mechanism of a particular poisonous component division (microtubule retraction) and is used in laboratories to
in causing toxicity may not be known, although the organ system interfere with DNA replication

affected may be known

In some cases, a toxic agent may be classified into more Plants That Injure the Skin
than one category. For example, oleandrin can be also considered Mechanical Injury
to fall within the broader group of cardiac glycosides. Solanine,
Mechanical injury is perhaps the most common injury associated with
found in the nightshade family, sometimes including potatoes,
plants. When thorns, needles, spines, or other plant parts become
is a combination of solanose (a sugar) and solanidine (the active
embedded in the skin, chronic irritation may result if the material is not
principle). Since it contains a sugar, solanine can be considered
removed quickly. A simple way to remove the hairlike thorns common
a glycoside. In terms of its physical properties, solanine may be
on cacti is to apply a thin layer of white (Elmer’s) glue over the thorns

considered a saponin. The active principle solanidine is a modified
Allow the glue to dry. Then apply a piece of masking or duct tape over
steroid that behaves as an alkaloid, so it could be called an alkaloid
the glue. Remove the thorns by quickly peeling off the tape-glue plaster

ANR Publication 8560 | Poisonous Plants | April 2016 | 5
Thorns that embed deeply in the skin near joints may cause irritating. Members of the spurge family (Euphorbiaceae), such as
painful, inflamed joints similar to chronic arthritis. If they embed spurge and to a much lesser extent poinsettia, are also commonly
near bones, they may cause a reaction in which the body walls off associated with dermatitis

the thorn in solid, tough tissue that may resemble a tumor. This Many other plants are commonly associated with causing
reaction may also occur even if the thorn is not near bone, but it is irritant dermatitis. Keep in mind that many of these plants can
less common. cause more serious symptoms than just dermatitis, especially when
If a thorn embeds deep in a joint (knuckle, wrist, elbow, ingested. Plants that cause irritant dermatitis include
knee, toe, etc.) a severe infection may develop that requires • arum family (dieffenbachias, philodendrons, pothos, caladium)
hospitalization. A stab wound to a joint is an emergency situation
• bulbs of many kinds (tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, buttercups,
and should not be ignored

Plants commonly associated with mechanical injury include
• carrot (Daucus carota)
• agave, including century plant (Agave americana)
• castor beans (Ricinus spp.) (very toxic if ingested)
• blackberry (Rubus spp.)
• celery (Apium graveolens)
• cacti (family Cactaceae)
• century plant (Agave parryi)
• citrus (Citrus spp.)
• cowslip (Primula spp.)
• Melaleuca spp. (some)
• Euphorbia family, including pencil tree (Euphorbia tirucalli),
• palms (some) poinsettia (E. pulcherrima), and spurges (Euphorbia spp.)
• pyracantha (Pyracantha spp.) • Ficus spp. (fig, rubber tree)
• roses (Rosa spp.) • foxglove (Digitalis spp.) (very toxic if ingested)
Primary Irritant or Contact Dermatitis • milkweed (Asclepias spp.) (very toxic if ingested)
The most common injury following a skin exposure to a toxic plant • mushrooms (various species)
is dermatitis, an inflammation or swelling of the skin accompanied
• parsley (Petroselinum spp.)
by redness, itching, and tenderness to touch. Irritant dermatitis can
be caused by caustic or irritating substances produced by plants that • parsnip (Pastinaca sativa)
come in contact with or injure the skin. This results in nonallergic, • tomato (stems and leaves) (Lycopersicon esculentum)
inflammatory skin reactions, or rashes. No one is safe from an irritant: • trees including alder (Alnus spp.), ash (Fraxinus spp.), beech (Fagus
if enough of the material contacts the skin, a rash will develop. spp.), birch (Betula spp.), cedar (Cedrus spp.), elm (Ulmus spp.),
Irritant dermatitis is a very common complaint with plants maple (Acer spp.), mesquite (Prosopis spp.), oak (Quercus spp.),
in the arum family (Araceae), which includes such common pine (Pinus spp.), poplar (Populus spp.), and spruce (Picea spp.)
houseplants as dieffenbachia, arrowhead vine, peace lily, • turnip (Brassica rapa)
philodendron, and pothos. All of these plants have special cells
that contain calcium oxalate, or oxalic acid, crystals. When a leaf Allergic Contact Dermatitis
is brushed, handled, broken, bent, or chewed, it ejects the crystals. Allergic contact dermatitis (ACD) differs from irritant contact
These crystals embed themselves in the skin or mouth or whatever dermatitis in that only sensitized (allergic) individuals react to
surface is in contact with the plant. Oxalic acid is extremely contact with the plant material, which is known as the allergen. It is
ANR Publication 8560 | Poisonous Plants | April 2016 | 6
rare for allergic individuals to react the first time they are exposed • English ivy (Hedera helix)
to an allergen. The first encounter sensitizes the allergic individual. • garlic (Allium sativum)
Usually, the next encounter with the allergen stimulates the
• geraniums (Geranium spp.)
allergic response. ACD usually results in redness, itching, and the
development of small blisters, but it may become so severe that large • ginger (Zingiber spp.)
fluid-filled blisters form. As with irritant dermatitis, ACD injury is • ginkgo (female trees only, fruit of Ginkgo biloba)
limited to the skin area exposed to the plant material. • laurel (Laurus nobilis, sweet bay, bay leaf)
Often, people exposed to plant allergens will use topical • lichens (various species)
anesthetics (containing benzocaine, dibucaine, lidocaine, or other
• liverwort (Hepatica spp.)
chemicals ending in the “-caine” suffix) and will develop an ACD plant
reaction to the medication in addition to the primary ACD reaction. • magnolia (Magnolia spp.)
Allergic persons may experience reactions to topical • oleander (Nerium oleander) (very toxic if ingested)
antibiotics (neomycin and bacitracin), topical antihistamines • onion (Allium spp.)
(diphenhydramine), and topical mercury compounds • philodendrons (Philodendron spp.)
(mercurochrome and merthiolate). Nickel is the most common
• primrose (Primula spp.)
metallic sensitizer; it causes more ACD problems than all other
metals combined (Zamula 1990). A person who develops a rash • sawdust from various trees, including laurel (also known as
needs to consider exposure to plants, medications, nickel, and sweet bay or bay leaf) (Laurus nobilis), Brazilian pepper (Schinus
anything new to which he or she might have recently been exposed. terebinthifolius), and silk oak (Grevillea robusta)
Many plants are commonly associated with ACD. Keep • smoke tree (Cotinus coggygria)
in mind that many of these plants cause other more dangerous • Toxicodendron spp. (poison oak, poison ivy, poison sumac)
symptoms than just allergic dermatitis, especially when ingested. (strong local skin reactions)
Plants that cause allergic contact dermatitis include
Photosensitization Dermatitis
• aster (Aster spp.) Photosensitization dermatitis is a special case of ACD in
• birch (Betula spp.) (pollen can cross-sensitize people to apples, which sunlight is required to cause injury. In livestock animals,
carrots, and celery) photosensitivity results from the animals grazing on plants that
• bulbs (Narcissus spp., including daffodil and narcissus) produce chemicals capable of injuring the skin after being exposed to
sunlight. In humans, photosensitization dermatitis is more common
• carrots (Daucus carota)
from chronic skin exposure to plants or plant parts that sensitize the
• castor beans (Ricinus spp.) (very toxic if ingested) skin to sunlight. After recovery from photosensitization dermatitis,
• cayenne peppers (Capsicum spp.) the skin will be darkened permanently

• cedar trees (Cedrus spp.) Plants associated with human photosensitization dermatitis
• celery (Apium graveolens) reactions include
• chrysanthemums (Chrysanthemum spp.) • anise (Pimpinella spp.)
• citrus (Citrus spp.) • buttercup (Ranunculus spp.)
ANR Publication 8560 | Poisonous Plants | April 2016 | 7
• carrot (Daucus carota) Easter lily (Lilium longiflorum)
• celery (with pink rot) (Apium graveolens) Easter lilies are sold as potted plants at Easter time. They have large,
• dill (Anethum graveolens) attractive, fragrant, funnel-shaped white flowers. Easter lilies are not
toxic to humans but are very toxic to cats

• fig (Ficus spp.)
• Klamath weed (Hypericum spp.) Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea)
• lime (and other citrus rinds) (Citrus spp.) Foxglove is a biennial garden herb that grows 1 to 5 feet tall. It has
• mustard seed (Brassica spp.) tubular purple, pink, yellow, or white-lavender flowers with rosette-
like leaves. Foxglove is the original source of the drug digitalis,
• parsley (Petroselinum spp.)
which is used medicinally to stimulate a weakend heart. Eating
• parsnips (Pastinaca sativa) fresh or dried leaves and swallowing seeds can cause poisoning and
• Persian limes (Citrus spp.) death. Signs of poisoning include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain,
diarrhea, headache, drowsiness, dizziness, mental confusion, blurred
Plants That Are Poisonous If Ingested vision, trembling, irregular heartbeat, slowed heart rate, heart block,
Remember that many plants in the house and outdoors can be and death

poisonous to humans and animals. If you even suspect a possible
Holly (Ilex spp.)
exposure, call your physician or the Poison Control Center

The poison center is available free of charge 24 hours a day at An evergreen shrub with sharply toothed leaves and red berries,
1-800-222-1222. Don’t guess; be sure! holly is widely planted in California. Some holly species are used
for Christmas decorations. This shrub is considered potentially
Flowers, Perennials, and Holiday Plants That Contain Toxins dangerous to children because they may eat the berries in large
Numerous poisonous flowering plants occur worldwide, and some quantities. The sharp, spiny leaves can cause mechanical injury in
are found in California homes and gardens (table 1). Some of the mouth if eaten. The plant, and especially the berries, contain
these plants, such as foxglove, have been used for centuries in both ilicin. Signs of poisoning include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and
medicine and mayhem. drowsiness. Symptoms depend on the amount of berries eaten

Lethal cases have been reported in the past, but recent poison center
Calla lily (Zantedeschia spp.)
experience indicates that nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea are much
Calla lilies are elegant flowering plants that grow in the home garden more common. Serious symptoms occur in ingestions of very large
and wild in the countryside. They are popular choices for bridal numbers of berries only

bouquets and cut flower arrangements. White calla lilies are the
most common color, but they are also grown in green, pink, purple, Hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla)
yellow, and orange varieties. The calla lily grows from a rhizome Hydrangeas are beautiful flowering deciduous shrubs found
and produces large green leaves. The flower blooms from the top outdoors and also as potted flowering plants with large clusters of
of a thick stem and is spathe shaped. All parts of the plant contain bold pink, white, or blue dense, globe-shaped flowers. There are
oxalate crystals. Biting into the plant or chewing plant parts causes numerous cultivated varieties and wild species. The leaves and
irritation, burning, and stinging of the mouth, lips, and tongue. buds contain hydrangin, a cyanogenic glycoside with the potential
Vomiting and drooling may be seen. Intense pain in the mouth to produce cyanide. However, in the few reported poisonings,
usually prevents ingestion of large amounts of the plant

ANR Publication 8560 | Poisonous Plants | April 2016 | 8
the symptoms were limited to nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. vomiting, stomach pain, dizziness, fatigue, headache, drowsiness,
Weakness, light-headedness, and shortness of breath may also occur. irregular heartbeat, irregular pulse, and heart block. The toxic
Allergic contact dermatitis has been reported in a few cases. Animal reaction is similar to that of digitalis found in foxglove

poisonings have been reported in older literature, but no recent cases
were found. Mistletoes
The term mistletoe is used for at least three groups of plants: dwarf
Lady’s slipper orchid (Cypripedium spp.) mistletoe, European mistletoe, and American mistletoe. The latter
This beautiful orchid has blooms in shades of white, yellow, crimson two are leafy mistletoes, whereas dwarf mistletoes are parasites of
pink, or purplish brown. The flowers have a pouchlike lip. The toxin, conifers, have plant forms unlike the leafy mistletoes, and are not
an irritant substance, possibly a fatty acid, contained in the stems used for holiday decorations; exposure to dwarf mistletoe would not
and leaves frequently causes contact dermatitis. Depending on the be likely

susceptibility of the individual, skin irritation may be minor, or it may In California, American mistletoe, Phoradendron spp., is
be a painful inflammation with blisters that lasts for days or weeks. found on deciduous trees, such as native oaks and ash, as a woody
semiparasitic evergreen shrub with greenish branches forming a
Lantana (Lantana spp.)
dense bushy growth 1 to 6 feet in diameter. Leaves and stems are
Lantana camara is a mounding perennial shrub, 1 to 3 feet high and leathery in texture, about 1⁄2 to 11⁄2 inches long. The flowers are small
2 to 6 feet in diameter. The stems are sometimes prickly. The serrated and inconspicuous. The fruit, produced in autumn, is a small whitish
leaves have a rough upper surface. Flower color varies according to berry with a viscid pulp. Ingestion of Phoradendron plant parts
the cultivar, including creamy white, yellow and pink, and orange usually results in symptoms lasting less than 6 hours. Ingesting a few
and scarlet. Flowers are borne in clusters. The fruit is a berry that is of the berries would be expected to cause mild nausea, vomiting,
green to blue before turning black. It is about 1⁄4 inch in diameter and and possibly diarrhea. Ingesting concentrated extracts of the plant or
contains a single, hard seed. The unripe green berries contain the berries may produce serious poisonings with symptoms of vomiting,
highest concentration of the atropine-like toxin lantadene. Symptoms diarrhea, abdominal pain, confusion, drowsiness, incoordination,
of poisoning from eating unripe berries appear within about 6 hours hallucinations, seizures, and increased rate of breathing. Information
of consuming poisonous plant parts. Symptoms include vomiting, on human overdose is limited. Most data are from animal
diarrhea, dilated pupils, weakness, incoordination, lethargy, slow experiments in which large doses of the mistletoe extracts were
and labored breathing, and coma. Chewing on or eating a leaf is not injected. The toxicity of mistletoe is further confused because of the
known to cause symptoms in humans. However, the rough surface of similarity of the Phoradendron and Viscum mistletoe genera

the leaves can cause dermatitis. Trailing lantana (L. montevidensis) has
European mistletoe refers primarily to Viscum album, which in
a purple flower and a lower growth habit. Berries are not associated
California is found only in Sonoma County. European mistletoe is
with this plant, although the stems and leaves may be irritating

a green-yellow aerial semiparasitic evergreen shrub. The berries are
Lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis) white and sticky with one seed. European mistletoe grows on various
Lily-of-the-valley is a sweet, fragrant, spring-blooming perennial trees but prefers apple, oak, and pear. It forms a drooping bush 2 to
herb with small, bell-shaped, white flowers. It is a good ground 5 feet in diameter. It has been used for Christmas decorations. The
cover in partial shade areas. The fruit is a red-orange berry. Leaves, fresh bark and leaves of European mistletoe have a characteristic
flowers, and berries are toxic and contain the cardiac glycosides disagreeable odor and a nauseating, acrid, bitter taste. European
convallarin and convallamarin. Signs of poisoning include nausea, mistletoe is considered more toxic than American mistletoe

ANR Publication 8560 | Poisonous Plants | April 2016 | 9
Ingesting a few of the berries would be expected to cause mild nausea, Weeds, Wildflowers, and Miscellaneous Plants That
vomiting, and possibly diarrhea. Ingesting large amounts of plant Contain Toxins
parts or drinking concentrated extracts or teas of the plant or berries Of all plant categories covered in this publication, weeds are
may produce serious poisonings. Symptoms could include vomiting, responsible for most of the deaths resulting from poisonous plant
diarrhea, abdominal pain, confusion, drowsiness, incoordination, ingestion, especially among livestock. Most weeds have a variety of
hallucinations, seizures, and increased rate of breathing. Information defense mechanisms, including very poisonous natural toxins, many
on human overdose is limited. Most data are from animal of which are alkaloids (table 1). Alkaloids can be excreted in milk

experimentation where large doses of the mistletoe extracts were Poisonings have occurred when livestock owners have consumed
injected. The toxicity of mistletoe is further confused because of the milk from livestock that have grazed on weeds containing alkaloids,
similarity of the Phoradendron and the Viscum mistletoe genera. such as lupine (Lupinus spp.)

Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) Artemisia, sagebrush, and wormwood (Artemisia spp.)
Poinsettias are widely cultivated as festive holiday potted plants at Wormwood has been used for centuries as a moth repellent, general
the Christmas season. While the red poinsettia is most common, pesticide, and a tea or spray to repel slugs and snails. Before its
poinsettias come in various shades of red, pink, and yellow. toxicity was known, it was used as an internal deworming medicine
Poinsettias may cause mild skin irritation and nausea or vomiting for people and animals. It is a herbaceous perennial plant with a hard,
if large amounts are ingested. Poison control centers consider woody rhizome. The plant grows to about 2 to 3 feet tall. The leaves
poinsettias safe plants to have in the household over the holidays. are greenish gray above and white below, bearing tiny oil-producing
The myth that poinsettias are deadly results from a historical case of glands. Some Artemisia spp. are considered to be toxic if ingested in
one death reported to be due to ingestion of a poinsettia in 1918, and large amounts. Many of these plants produce undesirable flavors in
there is much doubt that the plant involved was actually a poinsettia. milk due to the volatile oils they produce. If leaf parts are crushed, the
Tobacco, ornamental (Nicotiana spp.) volatile oils release a distinctive sagebrush-like scent. Symptoms can
include headache, dizziness, vomiting, diarrhea, sweating, and vision
There are many species of nicotiana plants, commonly called
distortion. Ingestions of large amounts may cause seizures, coma, and
tobacco plants. Nicotiana tabacum is cultivated for leaves used
respiratory failure. Dermatitis may also occur

to make cigarettes and cigars, but it is not commonly found in
California. Other nicotianas are cultivated as ornamental garden Castor bean (Ricinus communis)
plants. All can cause nicotine poisoning if ingested. Symptoms can The castor bean plant is native to the tropics but is also found along
include rapid and spontaneous vomiting and increased heart rate California roadsides as well as planted in gardens for its large, striking
and blood pressure, followed by a slowed heart rate and decreased appearance. It is a herbaceous annual that can reach nearly 15 feet
blood pressure. Other symptoms include headache, confusion, tall. The leaves are glossy and often red or bronze tinted when young

tremors, hallucinations, weakness, paralysis, coma, respiratory Flowers appear in clusters at the end of the main stem in late summer

failure, and death. The fruit consists of an oblong, spiny pod that usually contains three
seeds. The seeds are oval and light brown, mottled or streaked with
light and dark brown, and resemble pinto beans

ANR Publication 8560 | Poisonous Plants | April 2016 | 10
The seeds are attractive to children. The inner seed part is Leaves and seeds may cause contact dermatitis. If planted in
white and oily. The entire plant, but especially the seed, contains the garden, larkspur should be out of the reach of small children
ricin, an extraordinarily potent and toxic toxalbumin. The severity because all species are toxic. The plant contains diterpenoid
of symptoms depends on the degree the seeds are chewed. If seeds alkaloids, specifically delphinine. Toxicity decreases as the plants
are swallowed whole or without damaging the seed coat, toxicity is age. Eating young leaves before the flowers appear can cause
less likely. Toxalbumins initially cause severe irritation of the throat poisoning. The seeds are also poisonous. Signs of poisoning include
or stomach, similar to alkaline caustic burns. Symptoms include upset stomach, abdominal cramps, tremors, weakness, paralysis, and
bloody vomiting and diarrhea, abdominal pain, and sloughing of death. Eating larkspur is a major cause of cattle death

the stomach and bowel tissues, along with fever, drowsiness, and
lowered blood pressure. Symptoms are usually seen 2 to 6 hours Milkweed (Asclepias spp.)
after exposure. Two to five days after exposure, damage to the liver, Milkweed is a coarse, erect plant with a milky juice, hence its name

central nervous system, kidney, and adrenal glands can occur. Death Milkweed is the sole food source of the monarch butterfly larva,
in children may result from ingestion of only two or three seeds. and the plant is often used in butterfly gardening. The veins on the
Castor beans may cause severe allergic reactions in hypersensitive leaves are thick and yellowish. Flowers are white, greenish white,
individuals. pink, orange, or rose colored, and they grow in closely rounded
clusters. The fruit is a seedpod that is large, flat, and rough textured

Jimsonweed (Datura spp.) Each pod contains many seeds and has a tuft of long, silky hairs

This plant is known by several names, including jimsonweed, All parts of the plant are toxic, with highest concentrations in the
thornapple, stinkweed, locoweed, hell’s bells, and devil’s trumpet. stem and leaves. The plant is most toxic just before maturity, and
Jimsonweed is found in foothills, dry pastures, along roadsides, toxicity decreases upon drying. Some of the more toxic species retain
and in vacant city lots nationwide. It grows to about 2 feet high and enough of the toxic principle to be dangerous when mixed with hay

has trumpet-like white or pale violet flowers with coarsely toothed The toxic chemicals present in milkweed, asclepiadin and asclepion,
leaves. Egg-shaped fruit about the size of a large walnut are covered are members of a group of cardiac glycosides called cardenolides

with spines. The plant has a strong, offensive odor. Contact with Symptoms usually appear a few hours after ingestion and can include
the leaves and flowers can cause dermatitis. Ingesting large amounts stomach upset, loss of appetite, diarrhea, weakness, seizures in short
can be fatal. Powerful alkaloids of atropine, hyoscyamine, and and repeated intervals, labored breathing, rapid and weak pulse,
scopolamine are found throughout the entire plant, and all parts sweating, dilated pupils, and kidney or liver degeneration. Death
are toxic. Making a tea from the plant has resulted in poisoning. follows a comatose period and respiratory paralysis within one to
Signs of poisoning include thirst, dry mouth, blurred vision, dilated several days after ingestion. Milkweed also contains latex that can
pupils, increased heart rate, dry hot skin, fever, inability to urinate, cause mild dermatitis

constipation, delirium, and hallucinations, and these unpleasant
symptoms can last for many days. Death may result. Monkshood (Aconitum spp.)
Monkshood is found along creeks, in woods, and on mountain
Larkspur (Delphinium spp.) slopes. Its showy flowers are blue, purple, white, or yellow and
More than 250 species of annual larkspur and perennial delphinium have a characteristic helmet shape. The plant’s tuberous root has
exist worldwide. Leaves are deeply lobed, and flowers are borne been mistaken for a wild horseradish, sometimes with fatal results

on long terminal stalks. Many species are weedy, but others are The toxic juice in the flowers, leaves, stems, roots, and black seed

Of printed photos or create a digital photo album with the plant name placed in the caption for each photo. Keep the photos in your plant identification file. Let relatives and babysitters know about the file, its location, and how to access it. Plants and Their Toxic Principles Toxicology is the study of poisons and how they affect living

Frequently Asked Questions

Are castor beans poisonous?

Castor bean is a tropical plant widely grown as an annual in northern climates, often as a potted plant for patios, decks, or porches. The leaves, stalk, and seed-heads are all attractive. The laxative, castor oil, is derived from castor bean plants, but so is the deadly toxin, ricin. 4 

What part of a colchicaceae is poisonous?

Every part of the plant is poisonous, especially the tuberous rhizomes. As with other members of the Colchicaceae, this plant contains high levels of colchicine, a toxic alkaloid. It also contains the alkaloid gloriocine.

What are poisonous plants?

Poisonous plants are plants that produce toxins that deter herbivores from consuming them. Plants cannot move to escape their predators, so they must have other means of protecting themselves from herbivorous animals. Some plants have physical defenses such as thorns, spines and prickles,...

Is larkspur poisonous to humans?

Young plants and seeds are poisonous, causing nausea, muscle twitches, and paralysis; often fatal. Other plants in the parent genus Delphinium are also poisonous and commonly called larkspur. Commonly known as lily of the valley . Contains 38 different cardiac glycosides . Commonly known as redoul .

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