17 Plants You Had No Idea Could Kill You
These are the deadliest plants in your garden.
When it comes to nature, the general rule of thumb is this: The dangerous stuff looks scary, and the harmless stuff looks beautiful (or, at the very least, unassuming). So it must be a surprise, then, to learn that plants and flowers—often beautiful, always unassuming—rank among the most dangerous things on the planet.
To know what dangerous plants you had no idea were so dangerous, read on, because we’ve rounded up them all up right here. So… Happy gardening! And for more ways to master the plant kingdom, learn these 15 Ways You’re Destroying Your Garden.
Known for its striking flowers, the Oleander plant also holds a deadly secret: every part of the plant is highly toxic. According to a study published in Heart Views, parts of the Oleander plant contain cardiac glycosides, which result in acute cardiac toxicity and digestive issues. Those who ingest the plant suffer symptoms that range from an erratic pulse to a coma. Some patients have died as a result. Aside from the unpleasant symptoms that come with ingesting the plant, those who rub up against the Oleander plant may also suffer from a rash or irritation of the skin. And for more death-defying gardening, check out these 13 Terrifying Plants You Can Actually Put in Your Home.
Native to tropical areas, the Rosary Pea was given its name for the jewel and prayer rosaries created using its berries, which look not unlike pomegranate seeds. You wouldn’t want to eat them, though. According to the Centers For Disease Control, abrin—a poison that weeds its way into the body’s cells and prevents them from creating essential proteins, which, untreated, can lead to death—is found in the plant’s seeds.
Native to Africa, the Castor Bean plant is deadly because it contains the natural poison ricin—one of the most deadly naturally occurring substances on the Earth, according to Cornell University’s Department of Animal Science. While the threat that this plant poses to adults isn’t as deadly as some other toxic plants (as long as the amount ingested is small), some experts suggest that just one seed can kill a child. The typical symptoms of ricin poisoning include abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, and severe dehydration. If a person has not died within three to five days of ingesting the plant, then death is not likely. And for more on the deadliest plants that might be in your home right now, check out these 30 Plants You Should Never Bring into Your Home.
In the early days of American settlement in Indiana and Ohio, it’s estimated that up to half of the deaths of early settlers (including Abraham Lincoln’s mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln) were caused by indirectly ingesting tremetol found in the White Snakeroot, according to Plants That Kill: A Natural History of the World’s Most Poisonous Plants. Cattle and other livestock in the area would eat White Snakeroot, and then quickly develop a muscular degenerative disease known as “the trembles.” The tremetol would end up in an animal’s milk, and settlers who drank it would get deathly ill.
Unsurprisingly, the Deadly Nightshade plant is, well, deadly. Due to the atropine and scopolamine in its stems, leaves, berries, and roots, the plant proves to be incredibly poisonous to the body, eventually causing paralysis in the involuntary muscles of the body—including the heart. Even rubbing up against the plant can cause irritation of the skin. And for some less terrifying greenery, check out these 20 Easy-to-Care-For Houseplants That Will Brighten Any Room.
If you know anything about Water Hemlock, it’s likely that you’re at least familiar with the plant’s claim to fame: killing Socrates. The Water Hemlock, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, contains the toxin cicutoxin, which, when ingested, acts directly on the central nervous system, causing violent convulsions. In the most extreme cases, this means grand mal seizures and death.
Lily of the Valley
This perennial outdoor ornamental herb, a popular staple of outdoor gardens everywhere, can actually be incredibly toxic, according to the Canadian Biodiversity Information Facility. Its toxicity comes from the cardiac glycosides and saponins present in the plants, which can affect the heart if eaten. The Lily of the Valley is so toxic, in fact, that cases have even been reported of people and animals falling ill by merely drinking water the plant happened to be in.
Yes, it’s great in rhubarb pie, but ingesting large amounts of the plant’s leaves can kill you, reports the BBC. Containing deadly oxalic acid, ingesting the leaves of a rhubarb plant can cause kidney failure. You may want to avoid eating the stems and leaves altogether.
The Foxglove plant produces digoxin, an active ingredient in digitalis, a heart failure medication. By ingesting Foxglove, according to the National Capital Poison Center, you’re basically “taking an unregulated dose of heart medicine,” which can, inversely, cause heart failure. As such, you should keep this plant far, far away from children and animals.
According to research published by the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, the Wisteria plant can cause headaches, gastroenteritis, hematemesis, dizziness, confusion, diaphoresis, and, frighteningly, syncopal episodes (or temporary drops in blood flow to the brain that results in a loss of consciousness and control of the muscles). These symptoms typically last for five to seven days after eating more than a few berries from the plant—if they don’t kill you first.
Only consuming large portions of this plant can kill you—when it comes to Dieffenbachia, it’s small children and pets that you should keep from accessing this plant. In fact, according to the Pet Poison Hotline, the plant contains insoluble calcium oxalate crystals that work to irritate the mouth and GI tract—and, on rare occasions, swelling of the upper airway. If your pet or small child has ingested these insoluble calcium oxalate crystals, they will experience excessive drooling, oral pain, vomiting, and a decreased appetite.
If treated quickly, ingesting daffodils won’t kill you—but, according to the National Capital Poison Center, if left untreated, ingestion can be fatal to small children and pets. And while all parts of the daffodil contain the toxic chemical, lycorine, it’s the oxalates (toxic chemicals that are found in the plant’s bulb) that do the most damage to your body, including severe burning of the lips, throat, and tongue. If the throat pain, difficulty swallowing, and severe drooling persist after a few hours, get thee to a doctor, stat.
As far as the poisonous nature of the popular Hydrangea plant is concerned, only the flower buds are truly harmful when ingested, says the Canadian Biodiversity Information Facility. If consumed, humans can experience an upset stomach, skin irritation, and, in more serious cases, convulsions and coma. Though, unfortunately for the Hydrangeas in your garden, they will continue to be munched on by pesky rabbits who manage to avoid the plant’s poisonous wrath.
The honey produced (and sometimes eaten) from the common Rhododendron plant is also called “mad honey”—and for good reason. According to the National Capital Poison Center, the toxins found in the plant cause confusion in those who ingest it, along with dangerously low blood pressure. These symptoms, in the end, can even cause death. (Fun fact: the earliest case of Rhododendron poisoning is said to have occurred in the first century B.C.E. when Roman troops were allegedly poisoned with its honey. The day after they were poisoned, they were so confused that they lost a battle).
In ancient cultures, Yew is also called the “tree of death,” as it was used as an offering to the gods of death—and that nomenclature has rightly stuck through the years. According to Cornell University’s Department of Animal Science, the Yew plant, found in all corners of the world, is dangerously toxic. No matter how you consume the plant, the number of toxins involved have the potential to do a significant amount of harm to your system, causing cardiac arrhythmia that most frequently ends in death just one to three days later. Not only is the Yew plant dangerous when consumed, but there is no treatment found for the scute systems (shortness of breath) that comes with ingesting the plant. More often than not, animals, like cows and deer, who eat the plant are found deceased next to it just 24 to 48 hours after consumption.
Due to the relatively low-maintenance care required to maintain Philodendron plants, it’s become an increasingly popular houseplant. However, as reported by ABC News, they contain a toxin in their leaves, called calcium oxalate, that can cause inflammation of the mucous membranes in the mouth and throat when ingested. Though it’s not deadly in most cases of ingestion by humans, it can prove to fatal to smaller children and pets the more that they eat.
The Devil’s Helmet
Just a few years ago, a gardener died when simply brushing up against a Devil’s Helmet plant, raising public alarm to the serious danger this popular plant poses. As poison expert John Robertson told BBC News, the most poisonous part of the plant is actually its roots, as ingestion of its roots causes violent vomiting and diarrhea caused by heart failure. Most fatalities, he says, occur within the first few hours of eating the plant’s roots. Though its leaves are not as poisonous, they can cause some skin irritation. And for more facts about the deadliest plants in the world, check out these 17 Totally Genius Ways Plants Protect Themselves When Under Attack.
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