Doll’s Eyes, Fairy Bells, Miracle Leaf – how can plants with names like these be dangerous? Eat them, and you’ll be sorry you fell for their deceptive names and unassuming appearances. From a tree that can make you go blind to flowers that even kill unsuspecting honeybees, these 13 (more) poisonous plants are anything but innocent.
The Manchineel tree (Hippomane Mancinella) is so dangerous, it’s often marked with warning signs. Its leaves and small green fruit resemble those of an apple tree, hence the name – which is derived from “manzanilla”, meaning “little apple” in Spanish. But in Spain, this tree is more often known as “little apple of death”. All parts of this tree are so toxic that if you burn it and stand near the smoke, you can go blind.
Stand under this tree during a rainstorm, and you’ll get a nasty surprise in the form of blisters all over exposed parts of your body caused by contact with a white milky substance that the tree secretes when it rains. The Caribs used Manzanilla sap to poison their arrows and even tied captives to its trunk to ensure a slow and painful death.
Eat the Heart of Jesus (Caladium x hortulanum), and you’ll end up praying for mercy. It actually wouldn’t be too difficult to accidentally set your mouth and throat on fire with this plant, since it shares its common name – Elephant Ear – with another genus of plants calledColocasia esculenta (taro) which have edible roots. While taro tastes akin to potatoes, Caladium tastes like the burning depths of hell thanks to its toxic compound, Calcium oxalate.
With its broad green leaves and dainty white flowers, Doll’s Eyes(Actaea pachypoda) certainly doesn’t look dangerous. But, the striking white berries – once sewn into rag dolls as eyes, hence the name – are highly poisonous. They contain cardiogenic toxins that have an immediate sedative effect on human cardiac muscle tissue and can be fatal if eaten in large quantities. Even in small quantities, they can cause severe mouth pain.
Like its cousin monkshood, larkspur (delphinium) is a highly popular ornamental plant, often planted in gardens for their dramatic spikes of showy blue blossoms. Larkspur is so pretty that children often just can’t resist touching them, but even brief contact with the flowers or leaves can irritate the skin. And, if you ignore the warning sign of this plant’s strong, acrid taste, you could die – it’s packed full of potent alkaloids. Before keeling over from respiratory paralysis, you’ll experience excitability, disoreintation, muscle tremors, stiffness, weakness and seizures.
Neat, orderly rows of privet hedges (Ligustrum) look anything but frightening, but eat the berries and you’ll never want to go near this plant again. Some species, such as Ligustrum ovalifolium, contain toxic Glycosides which cause abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headache, weakness, cold and clammy skin. Equestrians should be especially careful not to let their horses munch on this unassuming plant, as it is often fatal to them.
Yellow Jessamine: it’s a pretty name for a pretty plant, but don’t be lulled into complacency by its Southern charm. This perennial evergreen vine, which is the state flower of South Carolina, can be deadly. Though Gelsemium sempervirens is sometimes used in herbal medicine to treat problems like sciatica, when used incorrectly, it can – and does – kill. All parts of this plant contain the toxic strychnine-related alkaloids gelsemine and gelseminine, which is even fatal to honeybees when they make the mistake of gathering its nectar.
This plant’s attractive appearance earned it names like Fairy Bells, Virgin’s Glove and Fairy Thimbles – but it’s also known as Dead Men’s Bells and Bloody Fingers, with good reason. Digitalis purpurea, Common Foxglove which is often found growing wild in the woods, is an undeniably beautiful plant containing cardiac glycoside digitoxin. Eat it and you’ll experience nausea, vomiting, convulsions, cardiac arrest and finally, death.
Considering how much tobacco is consumed around the world on a daily basis, you might imagine a plant called Tree Tobacco is okay to smoke or eat. Not so much. Nicotiana Glauca causes vomiting, diarrhea, slow pulse, dizziness, collapse, and respiratory failure and is known to frequently kill horses and cattle, especially in Texas where it grows wild.
Golden Chain (Laburnum Anagyroides) is a majestic tree, with cascades of sunny yellow flowers. It has a long-held reputation as poison in English lore, particularly since its seeds look very similar to peas. They contain both Lupinine and dangerous enzyme inhibitors, and as few as 20 laburnum beans can kill a child.
In 1997, 125 cows died in New South Wales after eating an ornamental succulent plant that’s common all over the drier parts of Australia. Mother of Millions (Kalanchoe tubiflora) is so named for its astounding ability to reproduce – each plant produces thousands of offspring. But this drought-resistant plant causes diarrhea, heart failure and death in stock animals that mistake it for food.
It’s called Miracle Leaf thanks to its medicinal properties, but useKalanchoe pinnata improperly and you’ll need a miracle to emerge unscathed. It contains bufadienolide cardiac glycosides, which can cause cardiac poisoning, particularly in grazing animals.
The delicate, starry white blossoms of the Windflower plant look like something that would adorn a bridal veil, but touch it, and you’ll get a nasty rash. The entire plant contains poisonous chemicals that are toxic to humans and animals, including protoanemonin, a skin and gastrointestinal irritant.
White Bryony sounds pleasant enough, but get a load of its other name: Devil’s Turnip. This vine-like relative of cucumber produces pale pink berries filled with a foul-smelling juice as well as a large, tuberous rootstock. When used properly by knowledgable herbalists, this plant treats a number of health disorders, but ingestion can cause vomiting, kidney damage, convulsions and miscarriage.