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The Most Poisonous Plants on Earth

Updated on March 8, 2016

Earth’s flora is not simply a beautiful view you can admire every once in a while when you are looking at pictures on the web or somebody is sending you images from his botanical garden, flower shop, or safari trip. It is just as intricate as the people and animals around it, there are so many plants, and not all of them are just pretty faces on a stem. Plants are not always small defenseless things, waiting to be picked or ravaged. Some of the plants on the planet are actually just as dangerous as they are lovely to look at, and some of them are so dangerous that once you have found out, it will be too late to do anything about it. Here is a list of some of the latter ones – the plants with skills to kill.

Each year over 100,000 are reported exposures to toxic plants.

It is your responsibility to teach children not to play with or eat growing plants

Hemlock (Conium maculatum)
Other known names: poison hemlock (England), devil's bread or devil's porridge (Ireland), Carrot Fern (Australia), spotted parsley, spotted cowbane, bad-man's oatmeal, poison snakeweed, beaver poison.

Let us start philosophical. Literally. Hemlock is the plant that killed Socrates, it is the plant used in Ancient Greece for executions by making the prisoner drink the poison made by the hemlock, and then have him or her walk about until it takes effect. Hemlock contains coniine, which is a poisonous alkaloid that strikes directly at the nervous system. 0,1g is a dosage that will be fatal to any adult. The coniine paralyzes the body bit by bit until it reaches the lungs or heart, becoming fatal to any receiver.

Death by curare is relatively slow and horrific, as the victim is awake and aware but cannot move or even speak. The main poison from Chondrodendron Tomentosum is an alkaloid, which causes paralysis and death much in the same way as strychnine and hemlock.

Hemlock Water Dropwort (Oenanthe crocata)

Continuing with the hemlock family of plants, let us continue with the one referred to as the most poisonous of British plants: the water dropwort contains. This plant’s leaves are regularly safely eaten by animals, but one root is the right amount to kill a grown cow. This plant is especially dangerous as its outer appearance is similar to other edible plants. It contains oenanthotoxin which contains a neurotoxin that again assaults the nervous system. Scientists claim that the plant produces a “sardonic grin”, and is one of the candidates for the “sardonic herb” used in ritual killing of elderly people in Phoenician Sardinia.

UK Map of Oenanthe Crocata Habitat


Safety tip: Keep skin covered and use gloves when weeding.

Deadly Plants Facts

Water Hemlock (cicuta maculate)
Other known names: cowbane, wild carrot, snakeweed, poison parsnip, false parsley, children's bane, death-of-man.

The water hemlock is a wildflower that grows up to 6 feet, and is also known as the most dangerous plant in North America. Its entire body – but especially the root, which is often fatally mistaken for parsnips – contains cicutoxin, which, as typical for all hemlock-type plants, acts directly on the nervous system. The plant’s poison has an immediate effect, and it causes nausea, abdominal pain, difficulty when breathing, irregular heartbeat, muscle tremors, seizures, and death.

Aconitum Genus
Other known names: aconite, wolfsbane, monkshood, devil’s helmet.

Despite one of its names, and proper to another, there is definitely nothing holy about the aconitum plant. Standing 3 to 6 feet tall, it resembles a lacy cover which is dangerous to ingest, and even touch. Simply touching the plant may cause skin numbness or tingling, and in some case, heart issues. Eating the plant (whose roots are sometimes confused for horseradish and other herbs) means absorbing neurotoxins and cardiotoxins thich leads to salivation and vomiting, gastrointestinal problems (like diarrhea), motor weakness, heart irregularities, blood pressure, lung and heart paralysis that lead to coma, and sometimes death. This plant has been used since ancient times to create all kinds of poison weapons, used in Nazi Germany and Greece (where it was used to kill wolves, hence the name ‘wolfsbane’).

Murder by arsenic was popular in the Middle Ages. It was said that a little arsenic improved the taste of wine, and the gracious Borgias family(the most famous arsenic poisoners) made sure their guests had the best-tasting wine possible.

The Rosary Pea (Abrus precatorius)
Other known names: jequirity, crab's eye, rosary pea, 'John Crow' bead, precatory bean, Indian licorice, akar saga, giddee giddee, jumbie bead, ruti, weather plant.

Despite the ugly stem, the plant’s peas are of the most beautiful seeds in the world – in fact, so beautiful that they are used to create jewelry, and prayer beads. But the abrin poison inside the seeds is just as deadly as their outside beauty. There are cases of jewelers who have found their death by pricking their finger on a broken seed. The seed’s potent poison causes lung and liver problems which lead to fever, nausea, convulsions, and, within a few days, death. The amount needed to kill an adult human is 3 micrograms which is much less than a seed’s contents.

The Suicide Tree (Cerbera odollam)
Other known names: pong-pong, othalanga, famentana; kisopo, samanta or tangena (Madagascar); pong-pong, buta-buta, bintaro or nyan (Southeast Asia).

This plant is one of the ‘pretty killer’ types, and has a close relation to the oleander in that regard. Its seeds contain the cerberin toxin which causes irregular heartbeat due to disrupting calcium ion channels in the heart muscle. This plant is referred to as the perfect murder weapon, as its taste can be masked by spices, and is very hard to detect in autopsies. In fact, it is a commonly used weapon for murders and suicides in India. A team from the Laboratory of Analytical Toxicology in La Voulte-sur-Rhône in France said that the plant is accountable for the most suicides in the world.

Jimson Weed (Datura genus)
Other known names: jimson weed, thorn apple, stinkweed, Jamestown weed, angel's trumpets, moonflower, sacred datur.

Found in many parts of North America, the datura plants stand 3 to 4 feet tall, with a reddish-purple build and has a dark-looking fruit, and a beautiful-looking trumpet-shaped lavender flower. Despite its looks, the plant contains scopolamine, hyoscyamine, and atropine throughout its being – in the stem, seeds, fruit, and petals. It could cause thirst, hypothermia, delirium, headaches, hallucinations, aggressive behavior, racing heartbeat, memory loss, and, eventually, death. It is deadly to grazing animals, and the colonists of Jamestown from the far away 1607 have long since learned not to have it for dinner.

Oleander (Nerium oleander)

Beauty can be deadly, as expertly illustrated by the oleander flower, which, besides one of the most gorgeous flowers in the world, is also one of the deadliest. And it is mostly deadly because people often use it as decorations because of its looks. Animals tend to stay away from it, recognizing the threat quickly. First discovered in the United States, it is native to the Mediterranean areas, and grows from 6 to almost 20 feet tall at full bloom even in the worst of conditions. It grows thick, with dark leaves, and a variety of colours for the flowers. What makes the plant dangerous are the toxins it contains: nerioside, oleandroside, saponins, and cardiac glycosides. They cause bowel problems and nausea that lead to diarrhea or vomiting, dizziness, and heart problems, most notably cardiac arrest as the plant’s glycosides mainly operate on the heart. Someone who has eaten the oleander has a better chance of survival of they live through the first 24 hours. The vapours from a burning oleander can hurt the lungs, so not only its consumption is dangerous. People fall victim to the flower even if they eat honey made from the oleander’s nectar.

The Castor Bean (Ricinus communis)
Other known names:
castor oil plant, Palma Christi.

Again dangerous because of its popularity as a decorative plant, found in gardens and houses around the world, the castor bean is among the most dangerous plants in the world, and, in fact, it holds the title of world’s most poisonous plant in the Guinness Book of World Records. What makes the plant deadly is the poison it contains: ricin. Typically within 2-5 hours of digesting its seeds, the eater experiences burning sensation in the throat and mouth, abdominal pain, and bloody diarrhea. Next comes severe dehydration, decrease in urine, internal bleeding, and a drop in blood pressure. Death comes within 3-5 days upon digestion. Despite the poisonous nature of the seeds, the castor bean is used to make vegetable oil in food additives and candy production, and is available as a laxative.

Safety tip: If it is not a food plant, do NOT eat it.

There you have it, some of the most dangerous plants known to man. Some of them present a huge danger simply because they are frequently used, others you stumble upon by accident, and one wrong step could very well be deadly.Experts from Handy Gardeners advice to beware mostly of Earth’s flora – it is just as deadly as it is striking.


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