poisonous mushrooms

Poisonous wild plants in North Carolina

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.

Baneberry all, especially berries vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, death rare
Bittersweet vine berries, leaves vomiting, diarrhea, convulsions
Buckeye, Horse Chestnut seeds vomiting, weakness, possible death
Buttercup all vomiting
Cardinal flower, Indian tobacco all vomiting, weakness, convulsions, possible death
Chinaberry tree fruit, leaves vomiting, difficulty breathing, death possible
Dock leaves vomiting
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
Poison hemlock
(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
Pokeweed all vomiting, diarrhea
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
special report

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

ALSO SEE: Poisonous house and garden plants | Poisonous flowers, trees and landscaping plants

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Join our discussions:
Showing comment(s)
June 21, 2018
Add Hogweed to the list. Skin blisters, blindness.
Francis at North Carolina Health
reply date
Thanks to your suggestion, Rory, we've added the 'Giant Hogweed' feature box above.
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