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Poisonous Plants: Chinese Lantern, Deadly Nightshade, Castor Oil Plant

Updated on May 8, 2018
Gloriousconfusion profile image

I love gardening, garden design, learning gardening techniques & photographing & painting plants. Member of Royal Horticultural Society.

These Plants Can be Deadly - Beware!


DANGER! Chinese Lantern (Physalis), Deadly Nightshade (Atropine) and Castor Oil Plant

Do you know what Chinese Lantern (Physalis), Deadly Nightshade (Atropine) and Castor Oil Plant actually look like? Many people sail through life thinking "This will never happen to me", but, with poisoning by toxic plants, you can never be a hundred per cent sure - have you never brushed against stinging nettles and felt a very unpleasant tingling, stinging rash for several hours afterwards? Of course that could happen even if you know very well what nettles look like: it just needs a moment's inattention whilst you are gardening or walking through a a field or overgrown path.

So staying alert and mindful is probably your best protection, but first you need knowledge. Then, with knowledge comes wisdom.

The Most Important Thing:



Poisonous Plant - Chinese Lantern (Physalis)


Poisonous Plant: Chinese Lantern Plant (Strawberry Ground Cherry or Physalis Alkekengi) -

Beware - The attractive bright orange seed pods of Chinese Lanterns are poisonous

The unripe berries of the Chinese Lantern plant can be highly toxic and possibly fatal,although the ripe fruit is edible.

Poisonous Parts: Unripe berries, leaves.

Symptoms: Headache, stomach ache, vomiting, diarrhoea, low temperature, dilated pupils, breathing problems and numbness

Poisonous Plant - Deadly Nightshade

Poisonous Plant: Deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna)

Deadly nightshade is a perennial plant that grows between 2 and 4 feet (0.6 to 1.2 meters) tall.

It is one of the most toxic plants found in the Western Hemisphere. Children have been poisoned by eating as few as three berries and Ingestion of a single leaf of Belladonna can be fatal to an adult.

Deadly nightshade or belladonna has its dull, dark green leaves and bell-shaped purple, scented flowers, which bloom from mid-summer to mid-Autumn.The green deadly nightshade berries turn to shiny black as they ripen. They are attractive to children because they are sweet and juicy.

Although toxic to humans and to some animals, horses, rabbits and sheep can eat the leaves and birds feed on the berries without harm.

The poisons contained in deadly nightshade affect the nervous system. Taken in sufficient doses, the deadly poison paralyzes nerve endings in the involuntary muscles of the body, such as the blood vessels, heart and gastrointestinal muscles.

Poisonous Parts: Deadly nightshade, or Atropa belladonna, contains poison in its stems, leaves, berries and roots - all parts of this plant are toxic. The young plants and seeds are especially poisonous, causing nausea, muscle twitches, paralysis; often fatal. The root of the plant is generally the most toxic part.

Symptoms: include dilated pupils, sensitivity to light, blurred vision, headaches, confusion and convulsions. As few as 2 ingested berries can kill a child, and 10 to 20 berries would kill an adult. Even handling the plant can cause irritation.

Uses of Atropine from Deadly Nightshade: In the past, Italian women would put deadly nightshade juice in their eyes to brighten them by dilating the pupils, which makes the eyes look larger.

Atropine, one of the poisons in deadly nightshade, is still regularly used in opthalmology to dilate pupils .

Poisonous ricinus communis castor oil plant


Castor Bean or Castor Oil Plant (Ricinus Communis)

The castor bean plant (or Ricinus communis) is widely cultivated throughout the world for its castor oil but the seeds contain a deadly poison -- ricin.

It grows well in barren areas and can reach 36 feet (11 meters) in a season. The flowers of the plant are yellowish green, with red centers,the leaves large with toothed edges.

Uses of Ricinus Communis:

Castor oil, which comes from the seeds, is a mild-tasting vegetable oil that is used in many food additives, and flavorings and also as a laxative. In ancient times, the castor bean was used in ointments, and allegedly, Cleopatra applied the oil to the whites of her eyes to brighten them.

Castor bean plant is used in Paclitaxel, a chemotherapy drug, in Sandimmune, a drug for immune suppression, and in Xenaderm, a topical for skin ulcers.

Poisonous Parts:

Ricin is present in low levels throughout the plant, but it is largely concentrated in the seed coating. Seed poisonings are rare and usually involve children and pets, but they can be deadly. As few as three seeds, which are green with brown markings, could kill a child who swallows them.

What is ricin?

Ricin is a toxin that is fatal to humans in extremely small doses. Just 1 milligram is a deadly amount if inhaled or ingested, and only 500 micrograms of the substance would kill an adult if it were injected (CDC). Ricin comes from the castor bean plant (Ricinus communis) -- it is present in the mash that is left over after grinding castor beans into oil. It can be delivered as a powder, a mist or a pill.

Ricin is a ribosome-inactivating protein -- it irrevocably damages the ribosomes that carry out protein synthesis in cells. The ribosome-inactivating proteins found in the castor bean plant are extremely powerful, and ricin poisoning can do serious damage to major organs.

Symptoms of Ricin Poisoning:

Nausea, abdominal cramps, vomiting, internal bleeding, and kidney and circulation failure. Many people suffer from an allergic reaction to the dust from the seeds and may experience coughing, muscle aches and difficulty breathing. Exposure to the dust is most common in areas where the beans are processed for commercial use.

Exposure to ricin can be fatal if it is inhaled, ingested, or injected. While skin or eye contact with ricin can cause pain, it is typically not fatal in that type of exposure.

The initial symptoms of ricin sickness, which may appear anywhere from three to 12 hours from the time of exposure, include coughing, fever and stomach pains.

If ingested, main symptoms within the first hours are stomach ache, gastroenteritis, bloody diarrhea and vomiting. Over the course of the first days after exposure, the victim may experience symptoms of dehydration and low blood pressure.

Ricin inhalation can manifest as lung damage, including pulmonary edema (fluid in and swelling of the lungs).

Other possible symptoms include seizures and problems with the central nervous system.

If the exposure is fatal, the victim most likely will die within five days. If death does not occur in that time, the victim will most likely recover. There is no known antidote for ricin poisoning.

There is no known antidote for ricin poisoning

Political Murder by Ricin Poisoning - Georgi Markov, London 1978:

A well-known Bulgarian writer Georgi Markov defected from Bulgaria in 1969, when Bulgaria was still a Communist state.

He settled in England, working as a journalist and broadcaster for BBC World Service and Radio Free Europe. When he broadcast a programme "In Absentia -- Reports" about life in Communist Bulgaria, Bulgarian government officials arranged to silence him permanently. Following death threats two weeks earlier, as Markov stood at a bus stop near Waterloo Bridge one day, he felt a sharp jab in the back of his leg. When he turned, a man apologized for poking him with his umbrella. Three days later, 49 year old Markov was dead.

Georgi Markov

Autopsy of Georgi Marcov

An autopsy was performed at Wandsworth Public Mortuary on September 12, 1978. Markov's lungs were full of fluid, which coincides with heart failure, his liver was damaged due to blood poisoning, his intestines, lymph nodes, and heart were riddled with small hemorrhages, and his white blood cell count was extremely high. A metal pellet the size of a pin head was removed from Markov's calf. The pellet was hollow in the centre and contained traces of ricin.

This Interesting Video Includes a Commentary About the Death of Georgi Markov from Ricin

Join this Poll - Most of us know some deadly plants, but some come as a surprise

How many of these dangerous plants did you know about before reading this article?

See results

Ten Incredibly Deadly Plants

© 2010 Diana Grant

Do Leave a Comment - I Love to Hear From People (But Nothing Too Poisonous!)

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    • Gloriousconfusion profile image

      Diana Grant 20 months ago from United Kingdom

      Thanks for that - but I've always known the photographed plant as deadly nightshade!

    • profile image

      michael brown 20 months ago

      The picture of deadly nightshade is in fact woody nightshade- a very common mistake to make.....

    • Gloriousconfusion profile image

      Diana Grant 22 months ago from United Kingdom

      I don't know, is the simple answer - you'd need to see a doctor.

    • profile image

      ALM 23 months ago

      Oh my goodness! That castor plant, or something that looks just like the picture, grows all over the place between my house and my kid's school. During the school year I walk them to school and I have more seizures than normal (I am epileptic). I mean triple the number of seizures I was having before they started school. Could it actually be because of this plant? I don't think there is any seed dust or anything flying around....Now I am paranoid.

    • Gloriousconfusion profile image

      Diana Grant 23 months ago from United Kingdom

      If it's not deadly nightshade, do you know what it is? I certainly thought it was.

    • Bard of Ely profile image

      Steve Andrews 23 months ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      The plant in the photo of "deadly nightshade" is not deadly nightshade.

    • Gloriousconfusion profile image

      Diana Grant 2 years ago from United Kingdom

      English equivalent?

    • profile image

      לחברים טובים 2 years ago

      שלום לכולם

    • Thelma Alberts profile image

      Thelma Alberts 2 years ago from Germany

      I have no idea about these plants that they are poisonous. Thanks for sharing the information.

    • JanieceTobey profile image

      JanieceTobey 3 years ago

      Wow! How interesting! I'm not sure if I was more shocked to read what Cleopatra did, or to hear about what might happen if you accidentally get poked with someone's umbrella!

    • Adventuretravels profile image

      Giovanna Sanguinetti 3 years ago from Perth UK

      I had no idea about the Chinese Lantern! Thanks for the info.

    • profile image

      GrammieOlivia 3 years ago

      Great information here, just have to share this too!

    • Gloriousconfusion profile image

      Diana Grant 4 years ago from United Kingdom

      @MadBotanist: Thanks for all that info.

      Funnily enough, I've written an article about Ricin -

    • profile image

      MadBotanist 4 years ago

      As a poison gardener, I have to say that this is an extremely well informed post. Bravo. Especially distinguishing between woody nightshade and deadly nightshade, the internet is rife with confusion between those two plants. For southern growers, there is also the threat of the rosary pea, Abrus precatorius, which has become an invasive weed in some areas. It contains a toxin called abrin, which is the most lethal compound in the plant world. It is very similar to ricin both in structure and function. Abrin is very concentrated in the brightly colored red and black seeds. Ingestion of a single seed with a broken seed coat is supposed to be enough to kill the average adult. It gets its name from the tradition of making beads from the seeds, and there are stories of bead makers boring holes in the seeds with needles who slip and prick themselves on the finger and die.

    • Gloriousconfusion profile image

      Diana Grant 5 years ago from United Kingdom

      @ohcaroline: It's a good thing you didn't cook them in with the beans, then, isn't it?!

    • profile image

      ohcaroline 5 years ago

      I didn't know about the ricin in the caster bean plant. I used to have them in a corner of my lot.

    • Lady Lorelei profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 5 years ago from Canada

      There definitely are a lot of plants out there that people do not realize are poisonous.

    • Gloriousconfusion profile image

      Diana Grant 5 years ago from United Kingdom

      @What_to_Know: That's good!

    • profile image

      What_to_Know 5 years ago

      This had more info than some textbooks I have.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Your pics are so beautiful ~ crisp and clear. And I love the way you talk/write; can hear your accent throught the words. I am a Master Gardener as well and live in the US of A. Enjoyed reading about the pennies. My mother used to pick up EVERY penny on the ground. And I thought Mother! are we that poor! Enjoyed your poisonous plants info as I have the Chinese Lantern. Good to know the orange pods are ok; but still would not drop any for the dachshunds to play with and eat. Cherrio!

    • MizzMary profile image

      MizzMary 5 years ago

      One more helpful lens about plants from you. I am also a gardener, though with much less experience than you and so I bow to your knowledge.

    • Gloriousconfusion profile image

      Diana Grant 5 years ago from United Kingdom

      @norma-holt: Thanks so much XX

    • norma-holt profile image

      norma-holt 5 years ago

      Returned to feature on Blessed hy Skiesgreen 2012-2 and also on Plain Cigarette Packaging. You do a great job bringing these things to our attention, Hugs.

    • profile image

      JoshK47 5 years ago

      Most informative, indeed - blessed by this SquidAngel! :)

    • profile image

      Rickcpl 6 years ago

      Very Informative!

    • profile image

      getwellsoon 6 years ago

      I learned a lot here, thank you!

    • Scarlettohairy profile image

      Peggy Hazelwood 6 years ago from Desert Southwest, U.S.A.

      My mom used to plant castor beans to get rid of moles (they eat the beans and die). If a plant grew, she knew that bean didn't get eaten. Ann Rule also wrote Bitter Harvest about a woman who poisoned her husband using castor beans. Interesting stuff!

    • Lady Lorelei profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 6 years ago from Canada

      My first sprinkling of angel dust on this lens has long worn off so I am back once again to scatter a little more. It is my quest today to bless all the lenses which I blessed in October of 2010. You are on this list.

    • Lady Lorelei profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 6 years ago from Canada

      My first sprinkling of angel dust on this lens has long worn off so I am back once again to scatter a little more. It is my quest today to bless all the lenses which I blessed in October of 2010. You are on this list.

    • profile image

      RinchenChodron 6 years ago

      Very interesting and useful. I published my Castor Bean lens a while ago and ran across this lens just today. They may be poisonous but are also very beautiful.

    • profile image

      baumchen 6 years ago

      Hope that the Physalis that I love to eat is not toxic as well ;)

    • EMangl profile image

      EMangl 6 years ago

      plenty of toxic plants out there where people would never think that they are dangerous

    • profile image

      KarenCookieJar 6 years ago

      I always wonder about this stuff when I am reading an Agatha Christie novel and she is talking about some poison from a yew tree or some such.

    • LaraineRoses profile image

      Laraine Sims 6 years ago from Lake Country, B.C.

      I have chinese lanterns growing in one of my flower beds. I just love the look of them .. I didn't realise that they were poisonous. I'd better stick with my nasturtium flowers and seeds for use in my salads. I'll use the lanterns for decorations.

    • Gloriousconfusion profile image

      Diana Grant 6 years ago from United Kingdom

      @anonymous: I had always thought that the plant which I pictured was Deadly Nightshade. I did do research, but unfortunately the website where I found the photo (and which I acknowledged on my web page) was wrong too, and I didnât realize, because it tallied with what I thought myself, as it grows locally and I was told that's what it was.

      I shall keep the top picture, as the solanum dulcamara is still poison, but I will change the other photos.

      I really appreciate Rob Large taking the time to explain the difference at length.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      The plant illustrated above is NOT Deadly Nightshade (Atropa belladonna), it is the related Woody Nightshade or Bittersweet (Solanum dulcamara). Although related, the plants are not very similar and are very easy to tell apart. Atropa has large reddish-brown to purple bell-shaped flowers and black fruit, while Solanum has star-shaped purple flowers with a yellow middle and red fruit.

      While it is true that Solanum is toxic and probabaly does contain atropine, it is far from being one of the deadliest plants in europe. Atropa on the other hand is very very toxic, but is also very very rare, if you are lucky enough to have it in your garden you should preserve it and treasure it (although keep children away).

      I think it is very important that if you are going to publish material such as this, you should at least check your facts. It is clear that the text above refers to Atropa not Solanum, but your plant ID is way off the mark.

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      How wonderfully excellent and informative, you could be saving lives here.

    • profile image

      Dinostore 7 years ago

      This is incredibly interesting and thorough, you create beautiful lenses :) Thumbs up and fav'd.

    • beerhead profile image

      beerhead 7 years ago

      Great and useful info here Very nice lens.

    • Tyla MacAllister profile image

      Tyla MacAllister 7 years ago

      Everyone should know how to identify harmful plants. Nightshades are especially dangerous to have around children because the berries are so tempting.

      *This lens has been blessed by a squidangel.*

    • WildFacesGallery profile image

      Mona 7 years ago from Iowa

      So pretty to be poisonous. Since I have a horse on pasture I'm always looking for dangerous plants. Thanks for this.

    • profile image

      poutine 7 years ago

      I didn't know that the Chinese Lantern was poisonous.

      Thanks for this lens

    • Lee Hansen profile image

      Lee Hansen 7 years ago from Vermont

      I was aware of belladonna and castor bean dangers but dd not realize the Chinese lantern plant was toxic. I've ripped out all three that have invaded my home garden every year - I'll work on them with a vengeance even more so now. Thank you for the enlightenment!

    • profile image

      scar4 7 years ago

      In my hometown where there is a lot of Chinese lantern plant as well as castor oil plant, we naughty kids often play games with these plants. Really fresh to know the poisonous effects of them.

    • profile image

      WriterBuzz 7 years ago

      If you like coffee, check out my lens on Who Invented Coffee. I found your lens by accident, and it's really nice. I gave you a thumbs up. Look forward to more lenses from you. I also did one on Migraine Headaches that might interest you. If you surf on by, leave me a comment.

    • myneverboredhands profile image

      myneverboredhands 7 years ago

      I do remember what we learned about Belladonna way back in middle school (because it was very common in our area), and about Chinese lantern I learned when I was in University... but about Castor trees I've learned about today from your lens. Very informative lens about poisonous plants, especially for those who didn't know about them at all, and for other it won't hurt to be reminded. Thumbs up and Fav.

    • ZablonMukuba profile image

      ZablonMukuba 7 years ago

      this is a great lens, i will be careful about the plants i see in china

    • Lady Lorelei profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 7 years ago from Canada

      Wow what an amazing job you have done on this lens. Blessed by a squid angel this morning. Have a wonderful day :)

    • profile image

      RebeccaE 7 years ago

      this is fascinating, I never knew about the effects of these plants, and I am certain most do not. excellent and informative.

    • GonnaFly profile image

      Jeanette 7 years ago from Australia

      My word. What a fascinating lens. These nasty plants all look so beautiful!

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      Wow, I didn't realize that my Chinese Lanterns were poisonous, I love them, they are so beautiful. My mother used to enjoy them in her dried flower arrangements. We don't have any children or animals here, and I'm not going to eat any of the plant (chuckle), so I will still keep them. Another great gardening lens, thank you! - Kathy

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      Thank you for your help. A friend was arguing about phsalis being poisonous but I knew I had read it somewhere. They are lovely lanterns but not worth the risk if you have small children.

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      Another great lens on such an important topic. Many do not know just what they plant and grow in the garden. *-*Blessed*-* and featured on Sprinkled with Stardust