Poisonous wild plants in North Carolina
Posted in Healthy Home & Garden on April 12, 2014. Last modified on April 21, 2019. Read disclaimer.
There are three general ways that a plant can poison us:
- if we eat it
- if it comes in contact with our skin
- if we inhale it
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Just how badly a poisonous plant may effect us can depend on:
- the individual. We can all respond differently... and some of us may have no response at all! Also, age, weight and overall health are factors.
- the plant species and even the individual plant, it's condition and the time of year.
- the amount of the plant's poison that we got exposed to
- our history with the plant. For example, the more often we come in contact with the urushiol oil in poison ivy, oak or sumac, the more allergic many of us will become.
Common myths about poisonous wild plants include:
- If wildlife is eating it, it's probably safe for human consumption.
- Cooking will make anything less poisonous.
- Avoid anything that is the color red.
- Poisonous just look poisonous. In reality, some poisonous and nonpoisonous plants look similar. (For instance, compare poison hemlock to garden carrot leaves.)
The following list includes some of the poisonous plants you may find when hiking or camping in Western North Carolina. It is not intended to be an all-inclusive list of all known toxic plants or all the possible symptoms that can be caused by these plants.
|WILD PLANTS||TOXIC PART||SYMPTOMS|
|Baneberry||all, especially berries||vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, death rare|
|Bittersweet vine||berries, leaves||vomiting, diarrhea, convulsions|
|Buckeye, Horse Chestnut||seeds||vomiting, weakness, possible death|
|Cardinal flower, Indian tobacco||all||vomiting, weakness, convulsions, possible death|
|Chinaberry tree||fruit, leaves||vomiting, difficulty breathing, death possible|
|Elderberry||leaves, stems, unripe or uncooked berries||vomiting, diarrhea, convulsions|
|False Hellebore||all||vomiting, diarrhea, hallucinations, possible death|
|Honeysuckle||berries only||vomiting, diarrhea, respiratory failure, death possible|
|Jack-in-the-pulpit||berries, leaves||mouth irritation, nausea|
|Jimson weed||all, especially seeds||hallucinations, rapid pulse, convulsions, possible death|
|Larkspur||seeds, young plants||nausea, weakness, possible death|
|Mayapple||unripe fruit||vomiting, diarrhea|
|Milkweed||milky sap||skin irritation|
|Monkshood, Wolfbane||all||vomiting, diarrhea, paralysis, possible death|
|Mulberry||milky sap||skin irritation, nausea|
|Mushrooms (learn more)||all parts||upset stomach, hallucinations, possible death. Symptoms may take a day or more to appear.|
|Nightshades, horsenettle||all||vomiting, weakness, possible death|
(herbaceous weed, not the tree)
|all||vomiting, diarrhea, paralysis, weak pulse, possible death|
|Poison ivy||all||skin irritation, eating berries can cause death|
|Poison sumac||all||skin irritation, eating berries can cause death|
|Sneezeweed||all||trembling, weakness, vomiting, difficulty breathing|
|Strawberry bush, Hearts-a-bustin'||fruit, leaves||vomiting, diarrhea|
|Stinging nettle||leaves, stems||skin irritation|
|Virginia creeper||berries||vomiting, diarrhea, kidney damage, possible death|
|Water hemlock, Spotted cowbane
(herbaceous weed, not the tree)
|all||vomiting, diarrhea, delirium, paralysis, death|
Skin-Burning, Blindness-Causing Giant Hogweed Plant
You may have noticed pictures in the news recently of people suffering from horrific, 3rd-degree burns, permanent scaring -- and even blindness -- after encountering Giant Hogweed plants growing along roadsides or in parks, pastures, and even backyards.
It turns out, the wretched plant was introduced in the US over a century ago as an ornamental and for erosion-control (how could those who brought it from Eastern Europe not been aware of its reputation?!). And, probably because birds eat and disperse its seeds, it can now be found in many Eastern US states. What makes Giant Hogweed especially scary is that its appearance closely resembles that of many other, far less noxious and very common plants in the carrot family. Fortunately for us in North Carolina, Giant Hogweed has so far been confined to only 6 locations in the Blowing Rock, NC area.
How can I recognize Giant Hogweed? And how concerned should I be?
Some of the most helpful photos and tips for identifying Giant Hogweed come from NY state which, coincidentally, is believed to have the worst infestations.
New York state officials have identified well over 2,000 plots containing Giant Hogweed -- with some of these containing over 1,000 hogweed plants! Fortunately, NY health officials are aware of only reported 4 burn cases over the past 12 years (and 2 of these were state eradication staffers). Apparently, just touching or brushing up against the plant is most likely not problematic. It is only if you cut the plant's tall, thick stalks or crush one of its gigantic leaves and come in contact with the it's sap that it becomes so dangerous. In fact, that's exactly what happened in the case that drew so much attention recently -- of a young Virginia man cutting brush as part of his landscaping job.
Think you may have spotted a growth of Giant Hogweed plant? NC Dept. of Agriculture asks that you notify their Weed Specialist, Dr. Bridget Lassiter at [email protected] or (919) 707-3749.
Sources for information provided on this page include: Potentially Poisonous Plants in the Home and Landscape, Linda G. Blue, Extension Agent, Agriculture - Urban Horticulture, North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Buncombe County Center