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Poisonous plant description 
and pictures

POISON CONTROL - IF YOU HAVE A POISONING EMERGENCY CALL              
       1-800-222-1222

Appendix C

Poisonous Plants

Plants basically poison on contact, through ingestion, by absorption, or by inhalation. They cause painful skin irritations upon contact, they cause internal poisoning when eaten, and they poison through skin absorption or inhalation in to the respiratory system. Many edible plants have deadly relatives and look-alikes. Preparation for military missions includes learning to identify those harmful plants in the target area. Positive identification of edible plants will eliminate the danger of accidental poisoning. There is no room for experimentation where plants are concerned, especially in unfamiliar territory.


 

Castor bean, castor-oil plant, palma Christi
Ricinus communis
Spurge (Euphorbiaceae) Family

Description: The castor bean is a semiwoody plant with large, alternate, starlike leaves that grows as a tree in tropical regions and as an annual in temperate regions. Its flowers are very small and inconspicuous. Its fruits grow in clusters at the tops of the plants.

CAUTION

All parts of the plant are very poisonous to eat. The seeds are large and may be mistaken for a beanlike food.

Habitat and Distribution: This plant is found in all tropical regions and has been introduced to temperate regions.


Chinaberry
Melia azedarach
Mahogany (Meliaceae) Family

Description: This tree has a spreading crown and grows up to 14 meters (42 feet) tall. It has alternate, compound leaves with toothed leaflets. Its flowers are light purple with a dark center and grow in ball-like masses. It has marble-sized fruits that are light orange when first formed but turn lighter as they become older.

CAUTION

All parts of the tree should be considered dangerous if eaten. Its leaves are a natural insecticide and will repel insects from stored fruits and grains. Take care not to eat leaves mixed with the stored food.

Habitat and Distribution: Chinaberry is native to the Himalayas and eastern Asia but is now planted as an ornamental tree throughout the tropical and subtropical regions. It has been introduced to the southern United States and has escaped to thickets, old fields, and disturbed areas.


Cowhage, cowage, cowitch
Mucuna pruritum
Leguminosae (Fabaceae) Family

Description: A vinelike plant that has oval leaflets in groups of three and hairy spikes with dull purplish flowers. The seeds are brown, hairy pods.

CAUTION

Contact with the pods and flowers causes irritation and blindness if in the eyes.

Habitat and Distribution: Tropical areas and the United States.


Death camas, death lily
Zigadenus species
Lily (Liliaceae) Family

Description: This plant arises from a bulb and may be mistaken for an onionlike plant. Its leaves are grasslike. Its flowers are six-parted and the petals have a green, heart-shaped structure on them. The flowers grow on showy stalks above the leaves.

CAUTION

All parts of this plant are very poisonous. Death camas does not have the onion smell.

Habitat and Distribution: Death camas is found in wet, open, sunny habitats, although some species favor dry, rocky slopes. They are common in parts of the western United States. Some species are found in the eastern United States and in parts of the North American western subarctic and eastern Siberia.


Lantana
Lantana camara
Vervain (Verbenaceae) Family

Description: Lantana is a shrublike plant that may grow up to 45 centimeters (18 inches) high. It has opposite, round leaves and flowers borne in flat-topped clusters. The flower color (which varies in different areas) may be white, yellow, orange, pink, or red. It has a dark blue or black berrylike fruit. A distinctive feature of all parts of this plant is its strong scent.

CAUTION

All parts of this plant are poisonous if eaten and can be fatal. This plant causes dermatitis in some individuals.

Habitat and Distribution: Lantana is grown as an ornamental in tropical and temperate areas and has escaped cultivation as a weed along roads and old fields.


Manchineel
Hippomane mancinella
Spurge (Euphorbiaceae) Family

Description: Manchineel is a tree reaching up to 15 meters (45 feet) high with alternate, shiny green leaves and spikes of small greenish flowers. Its fruits are green or greenish-yellow when ripe.

CAUTION

This tree is extremely toxic. It causes severe dermatitis in most individuals after only 0.5 hour. Even water dripping from the leaves may cause dermatitis. The smoke from burning it irritates the eyes. No part of this plant should be considered a food.

Habitat and Distribution: The tree prefers coastal regions. It is found in south Florida, the Caribbean, Central America, and northern South America.


Oleander
Nerium oleander
Dogbane (Apocynaceae) Family

Description: This shrub or small tree grows to about 9 meters (27 feet), with alternate, very straight, dark green leaves. Its flowers may be white, yellow, red, pink, or intermediate colors. Its fruit is a brown, podlike structure with many small seeds.

CAUTION

All parts of the plant are very poisonous. Do not use the wood for cooking; it gives off poisonous fumes that can poison food.

Habitat and Distribution: This native of the Mediterranean area is now grown as an ornamental in tropical and temperate regions.


Pangi
Pangium edule
Pangi Family

Description: This tree, with heart-shaped leaves in spirals, reaches a height of 18 meters (54 feet). Its flowers grow in spikes and are green in color. Its large, brownish, pear-shaped fruits grow in clusters.

CAUTION

All parts are poisonous, especially the fruit.

Habitat and Distribution: Pangi trees grow in southeast Asia.


Physic nut
Jatropha curcas
Spurge (Euphoriaceae) Family

Description: This shrub or small tree has large, 3- to 5-parted alternate leaves. It has small, greenish-yellow flowers and its yellow, apple-sized fruits contain three large seeds.

CAUTION

The seeds taste sweet but their oil is violently purgative. All parts of the physic nut are poisonous.

Habitat and Distribution: Throughout the tropics and southern United States.


Poison hemlock, fool's parsley
Conium maculatum
Parsley (Apiaceae) Family

Description: This biennial herb may grow to 2.5 meters (8 feet) high. The smooth, hollow stem may or may not be purple or red striped or mottled. Its white flowers are small and grow in small groups that tend to form flat umbels. Its long, turniplike taproot is solid.

CAUTION

This plant is very poisonous, and even a very small amount may cause death. This plant is easy to confuse with wild carrot or Queen Anne's lace, especially in its first stage of growth. Wild carrot or Queen Anne's lace has hairy leaves and stems and smells like carrot. Poison hemlock does not.

Habitat and Distribution: Poison hemlock grows in wet or moist ground like swamps, wet meadows, stream banks, and ditches. Native to Eurasia, it has been introduced to the United States and Canada.


Poison ivy and poison oak
Toxicodendron radicans and Toxicodendron diversibba
Cashew (Anacardiacese) Family

Description: These two plants are quite similar in appearance and will often crossbreed to make a hybrid. Both have alternate, compound leaves with three leaflets. The leaves of poison ivy are smooth or serrated. Poison oak's leaves are lobed and resemble oak leaves. Poison ivy grows as a vine along the ground or climbs by red feeder roots. Poison oak grows like a bush. The greenish-white flowers are small and inconspicuous and are followed by waxy green berries that turn waxy white or yellow, then gray.

CAUTION

All parts, at all times of the year, can cause serious contact dermatitis.

Habitat and Distribution: Poison ivy and oak can be found in almost any habitat in North America.


Poison sumac
Toxicodendron vernix
Cashew (Anacardiacese) Family

Description: Poison sumac is a shrub that grows to 8.5 meters (28 feet) tall. It has alternate, pinnately compound leafstalks with 7 to 13 leaflets. Flowers are greenish-yellow and inconspicuous and are followed by white or pale yellow berries.

CAUTION

All parts can cause serious contact dermatitis at all times of the year.

Habitat and Distribution: Poison sumac grows only in wet, acid swamps in North America.


Rosary pea or crab's eyes
Abrus precatorius
Leguminosae (Fabaceae) Family

Description: This plant is a vine with alternate compound leaves, light purple flowers, and beautiful seeds that are red and black.

CAUTION

This plant is one of the most dangerous plants. One seed may contain enough poison to kill an adult.

Habitat and Distribution: This is a common weed in parts of Africa, southern Florida, Hawaii, Guam, the Caribbean, and Central and South America.


Strychnine tree
Nux vomica
Logania (Loganiaceae) Family

Description: The strychnine tree is a medium-sized evergreen, reaching a height of about 12 meters (36 feet), with a thick, frequently crooked trunk. Its deeply veined oval leaves grow in alternate pairs. Small, loose clusters of greenish flowers appear at the ends of branches and are followed by fleshy, orange-red berries about 4 centimeters (1 1/2 inches) in diameter.

CAUTION

The berries contain the disklike seeds that yield the poisonous substance strychnine. All parts of the plant are poisonous.

Habitat and Distribution: A native of the tropics and subtropics of southeastern Asia and Australia.


Trumpet vine or trumpet creeper
Campsis radicans
Trumpet creeper (Bignoniaceae) Family

Description: This woody vine may climb to 15 meters (45 feet) high. It has pealike fruit capsules. The leaves are pinnately compound, 7 to 11 toothed leaves per leaf stock. The trumpet-shaped flowers are orange to scarlet in color.

CAUTION

This plant causes contact dermatitis.

Habitat and Distribution: This vine is found in wet woods and thickets throughout eastern and central North America.


Water hemlock or spotted cowbane
Cicuta maculata
Parsley (Apiaceae) Family

Description: This perennial herb may grow to 1.8 meters (6 feet) high. The stem is hollow and sectioned off like bamboo. It may or may not be purple or red striped or mottled. Its flowers are small, white, and grow in groups that tend to form flat umbels. Its roots may have hollow air chambers and, when cut, may produce drops of yellow oil.

CAUTION

This plant is very poisonous and even a very small amount of this plant may cause death. Its roots have been mistaken for parsnips.

Habitat and Distribution: Water hemlock grows in wet or moist ground like swamps, wet meadows, stream banks, and ditches throughout the Unites States and Canada.

Chapter 10

Poisonous Plants

Successful use of plants in a survival situation depends on positive identification. Knowing poisonous plants is as important to you as knowing edible plants. Knowing the poisonous plants will help you avoid sustaining injuries from them.

HOW PLANTS POISON

10-1. Plants generally poison by—

  • Contact. This contact with a poisonous plant causes any type of skin irritation or dermatitis.

  • Ingestion. This occurs when a person eats a part of a poisonous plant.

  • Absorption or inhalation. This happens when a person either absorbs the poison through the skin or inhales it into the respiratory system.

10-2. Plant poisoning ranges from minor irritation to death. A common question asked is, "How poisonous is this plant?" It is difficult to say how poisonous plants are because—

  • Some plants require a large amount of contact before you notice any adverse reaction although others will cause death with only a small amount.

  • Every plant will vary in the amount of toxins it contains due to different growing conditions and slight variations in subspecies.

  • Every person has a different level of resistance to toxic substances.

  • Some persons may be more sensitive to a particular plant.

10-3. Some common misconceptions about poisonous plants are—

  • Watch the animals and eat what they eat. Most of the time this statement is true, but some animals can eat plants that are poisonous to humans.

  • Boil the plant in water and any poisons will be removed. Boiling removes many poisons, but not all.

  • Plants with a red color are poisonous. Some plants that are red are poisonous, but not all.

10-4. The point is there is no one rule to aid in identifying poisonous plants. You must make an effort to learn as much about them as possible.

ALL ABOUT PLANTS

10-5. Many poisonous plants look like their edible relatives or like other edible plants. For example, poison hemlock appears very similar to wild carrot. Certain plants are safe to eat in certain seasons or stages of growth but poisonous in other stages. For example, the leaves of the pokeweed are edible when it first starts to grow, but they soon become poisonous. You can eat some plants and their fruits only when they are ripe. For example, the ripe fruit of May apple is edible, but all other parts and the green fruit are poisonous. Some plants contain both edible and poisonous parts; potatoes and tomatoes are common plant foods, but their green parts are poisonous.

10-6. Some plants become toxic after wilting. For example, when the black cherry starts to wilt, hydrocyanic acid develops. Specific preparation methods make some plants edible that are poisonous raw. You can eat the thinly sliced and thoroughly dried (drying may take a year) corms of the jack-in-the-pulpit, but they are poisonous if not thoroughly dried.

10-7. Learn to identify and use plants before a survival situation. Some sources of information about plants are pamphlets, books, films, nature trails, botanical gardens, local markets, and local natives. Gather and cross-reference information from as many sources as possible, because many sources will not contain all the information needed.

RULES FOR AVOIDING POISONOUS PLANTS

10-8. Your best policy is to be able to positively identify plants by sight and to know their uses or dangers. Many times absolute certainty is not possible. If you have little or no knowledge of the local vegetation, use the rules to select plants for the Universal Edibility Test. Remember, avoid

  • All mushrooms. Mushroom identification is very difficult and must be precise—even more so than with other plants. Some mushrooms cause death very quickly. Some mushrooms have no known antidote. Two general types of mushroom poisoning are gastrointestinal and central nervous system.

  • Contact with or touching plants unnecessarily.

CONTACT DERMATITIS

10-9. Contact dermatitis from plants will usually cause the most trouble in the field. The effects may be persistent, spread by scratching, and particularly dangerous if there is contact in or around the eyes.

10-10. The principal toxin of these plants is usually an oil that gets on the skin upon contact with the plant. The oil can also get on equipment and then infect whoever touches the equipment. Never burn a contact poisonous plant because the smoke may be as harmful as the plant. You have a greater danger of being affected when you are overheated and sweating. The infection may be local or it may spread over the body.

10-11. Symptoms may take from a few hours to several days to appear. Symptoms can include burning, reddening, itching, swelling, and blisters.

10-12. When you first contact the poisonous plants or when the first symptoms appear, try to remove the oil by washing with soap and cold water. If water is not available, wipe your skin repeatedly with dirt or sand. Do not use dirt if you have blisters. The dirt may break open the blisters and leave the body open to infection. After you have removed the oil, dry the area. You can wash with a tannic acid solution and crush and rub jewelweed on the affected area to treat plant-caused rashes. You can make tannic acid from oak bark.

10-13. Poisonous plants that cause contact dermatitis are—

  • Cowhage.

  • Poison ivy.

  • Poison oak.

  • Poison sumac.

  • Rengas tree.

  • Trumpet vine.

INGESTION POISONING

10-14. Ingestion poisoning can be very serious and could lead to death very quickly. Do not eat any plant unless you have positively identified it first. Keep a log of all plants eaten.

10-15. Symptoms of ingestion poisoning can include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, depressed heartbeat and respiration, headaches, hallucinations, dry mouth, unconsciousness, coma, and death.

10-16. If you suspect plant poisoning, try to remove the poisonous material from the victim's mouth and stomach as soon as possible. If the victim is conscious, induce vomiting by tickling the back of his throat or by giving him warm saltwater. If the victim is conscious, dilute the poison by administering large quantities of water or milk.

10-17. The following plants can cause ingestion poisoning if eaten:

  • Castor bean.

  • Chinaberry.

  • Death camas.

  • Lantana.

  • Manchineel.

  • Oleander.

  • Pangi.

  • Physic nut.

  • Poison and water hemlocks.

  • Rosary pea.

  • Strychnine tree.