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10 Innocent Looking Plants That Are Deadly

The world can be a very dangerous place, with threats and unknown perils looming around in the corner. Danger can present itself in many forms and being aware of it can save our lives. However, what if something appears to be harmless but in truth turns out to be deadly?

One of such would be plants, though as innocuous as they may seem sometimes, some do pose extreme hazards to other life forms. Plants in nature are defenseless, and they do not have the means to flee from threats that may harm them. Thus, some of these plants have a mechanism of ‘self-protection’ that will keep threats at bay. For instance, a variety of plants have complex polymers that can inhibit digestibility in animals when ingested. In other instances, the toxins found on the surface of the plants itself can repel or even kill anything that tries to harm it.

Be on the lookout for some of these plants listed below; they may look pretty harmless but is in fact deadly.


Acokanthera Spectabilis

The common name for this plant is Wintersweet and some other time also known as Bushman’s Poison. The flowers are fragrant, white and tubular, densely clustered in leaf axils with five spreading star-shaped lobes. The leaves of the Wintersweet plant are dark green, thick and leathery in texture.

The plant bears fruits that are succulent and reddish, turning a hue of purplish-black when ripe. The ripe fruit can be mistaken for an olive as it has a similar appearance. The sap of the plant is milky and contains the deadly cardiotoxic glycoside ouabain which is used in arrow poisons, including those used for poaching elephant. The sap may cause irritation to the skin and eyes when it does come into contact with these sensitive parts of the body.

All parts of the plant are toxic, and symptoms from the poisoning can vary from lethargy, restlessness to seizures. There are related species in other parts of the world that have been reported to cause deaths. Accidental consumption of the fruit can cause severe gastrointestinal irritation with abdominal pain, excessive salivation, and vomiting.[1]

 Aconitum Napellus

The Aconitum Napellus is a perennial herb usually grown as an ornamental plant due to its attractive dark purple flowers. It is also known by its other alternative names - monkshood or wolfsbane. The term came about since the ancient times whereby the toxin extracted from the flowers were historically used to kill or repel werewolves. In the early days, people also used to smear the poison from the plant on spears and arrows for hunting and battle. The ancient Romans used it as a method of execution.

The entire plant is poisonous, but the concentration of the toxins is mostly at its roots. The toxin, namely Aconitine, which is abundant in the Aconitum Napellus is considered the most dangerous of the toxins found in the plant. This toxin is highly noted as a heart poison and potent as a nerve poison too.[2]

Poisoning by the plant is rare in North America, but cases do occur when people get confused thinking that it is an edible plant. The onset symptoms of poisoning would be numbness and tingling sensation, nausea, abdominal pain to the more severe which is respiratory paralysis and heart rhythm abnormalities leading to death. All these can occur within minutes to a few hours after swallowing the poisonous plant.

 Ageratina Altissima

The plant is also identified by its other names such as white snakerootrichweed, or white sanicle. It is a member of the daisy family Asteraceae and it grows well in moist, shaded areas such as stream beds and tree lines. The plant can be identified by its spotless white color flower and after blooming, small seeds with fluffy white tails are released to blow in the wind.

The plant is named white snakeroot because the early settlers believed it to be valuable in treating snakebite. However, it is highly toxic as it contains the toxin tremetol. Back in the 1800s, the European settlers in the Midwest region of the United States noticed that their livestock begin to fall ill. The animals developed violent trembling and the disease later became known as trembles. Consumption of milk from the affected animals developed a so-called milk sickness, which resulted in 20-25% of deaths of the early settlers. One of the casualties reported back in 1818 was a Nancy Hanks Lincoln, who is the mother of the late President Abraham Lincoln.

Atropa BelladonnaThe Atropa Belladonna is also known by its many names - Belladonna, Deadly Nightshade, Banewort, Devil’s Berries, and Naughty Man’s Cherries, among others. The plant’s alluring name - ‘belladonna’, meaning ‘beautiful lady’ was chosen because of the risky practice tied to its usage in Italy. The juice from the belladonna berry was historically used to enlarge the pupils of women, to give them a striking appearance.[3] It is a dangerous practice as the toxins from the berries are lethal in unsupervised dosage.

The fruit and berries appear green when growing, but, as the toxins get stronger in the ripening stage, the fruit will turn a shiny black color. The foliage and berries of the species are extremely toxic containing tropane alkaloids, which include scopolamine and hyoscyamine that will cause bizarre delirium and hallucinations when ingested. There is a high risk of poisoning usually among children, who often may confuse the fruit of this poisonous plant with that of other berries.[4]

The Belladonna has certain chemicals that are known to block functions of the body’s nervous system. The chemical Atropine which is found in the berry may cause dry mouth, dilation of pupils and tachycardia. Toxic doses of Atropine may lead to restlessness, irritability, disorientation, and hallucination or even delirium.

Cicuta Douglasii

The Cicuta Douglasii plant, also known as water hemlock is common in British Columbia and indigenous to North America where it primarily grows from the base of the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Coast. It is considered one of the most poisonous plants as it can lead to death in as little as 15 minutes.

Water hemlock thrives in marshes, swamps and wet meadows along streams and rivers. Its appearance as a stout, erect and hairless perennial can sometimes be mistaken for edible plants like artichoke or wild parsnip.[5] Consuming the plant, especially the roots will result in severe side effects or even death as it is the most poisonous part of the plant. It is known that livestock consuming as little as two ounces of the root will usually die. The toxin will be rapidly absorbed by the mucous membranes and the digestive tract.

Toxins from the Cicuta plants act primarily on the brain affecting the inhibitory neurons causing violent convulsions and respiratory failure. The beginning of symptoms is dramatic, with cholinergic symptoms such as gastrointestinal upset, hypersalivation, and sweating. The most prominent symptoms are recurrent, long-lasting chronic convulsions.



 Datura is a sweet-scented vespertine plant, which blooms normally at dusk. It is known for its deadly poisonous toxins, prickly seedpods, and strikingly beautiful ten-pointed flowers. The other names for the Datura plant are Jimsonweed, Devil's Weed, Devil's Trumpets, Moonflower, and Toloache.

The Datura plant though known to be poisonous has been used around the world for thousands of years in medicine, magic and other nefarious activities. Despite the notoriety and distinctive appearance of the plant, Datura is often mistaken for food. In 1676, a troop of British soldiers in Jamestown, Virginia, boiled up the leaves for a meal and went insane for 11 days after ingesting the meal.

The seeds and flowers of the Datura plant have many uses, but the results can be detrimental if usage is unsupervised, especially among novice users. Many otherwise healthy people have died from taking Datura, usually as the result of respiratory paralysis or heart failure. Sometimes a fatal reaction can take more than 12 hours to manifest due to the high variability of alkaloid concentrations.


The common name for this plant is Dumb Cane and it is a tropical flowering plant from the Araceae family. The name Dumb Cane mainly refers to the plant’s poisonous effect, which is experienced when ingested. It is one of the most common indoor plants that are easy to tend to. It certainly makes an attractive house plant and great for the office too. However, extra care and precaution are required, especially if the plant is exposed to children or pets. The plant is so poisonous that it can kill a child in one minute and an adult in 15 minutes.[6]

The plant especially its leaves are covered in lots of microscopic needle-shaped calcium oxalate crystals. It will cause painful swelling of the mouth should any unsuspecting animal or human were to accidentally chew down on the leaf. The swelling can be so bad that it causes the victim to lose the ability to talk, hence the term Dumb Cane. In some cases, the toxin of the plants does get into contact with the eye and skin, causing a great deal of pain to its victim. The effects may be more severe for children and pets.

Menispermum Canadense

It is also known as Canadian Moonseed, Common Moonseed or Yellow Parilla from the Menispermaceae family. It is a climbing perennial vine that can get quite large and usually grows in thickets, moist woods, and the banks of streams.

All parts of the plant are known to be poisonous and consuming it can be fatal. Its fruits bear a slight resemblance to grapes but should not be eaten as they are poisonous. The one way to distinguish moonseed vine from wild grapes is that the former lacks tendrils while the latter has forked tendrils. Another way to examine whether the fruit is not from a moonseed plant is to check the seeds. Moonseeds have a single crescent-shaped seed while grapes have round seeds.

In Pennsylvania, the fruits of this plant have apparently killed children as a result of the principal toxin alkaloid dauricine, which is found in the fruit. Mistaking the plant for edible wild grapes may result in convulsion, seizures and even death in certain cases.

 Nerium Oleander

The plant is usually described as a shrub growing to heights of six to 12 feet and makes an appealing landscape plant. The flowers grow in clusters of two to three-inch diameter, five-lobed, fringed and usually come in colors of white, pink-salmon, red or yellow. Some of the common names for the plants are Rose Bay, Rose Laurel, and South Sea Rose, to name a few. 

The loveliness of the Nerium Oleander contrasting with its toxicity makes it a dangerous beauty. The Nerium Oleander plant contains several toxic elements cardiac glycosidessaponins, digitoxigenin, oleandrin, oleondroside, and nerioside. These poisons are found in all parts of the plant and are toxic, regardless whether the plant is in its raw or dried form.

Accidental ingestion of the plant can result in a variety of symptoms ranging from moderate to severe and are usually gastrointestinal and cardiac-related effects, which may be fatal. The milder effect can include skin rash, blurred vision, diarrhea, low blood pressure, irregular or slowed heartbeat and confusion, to name a few. The more chronic or severe form of poisoning may result in depression, loss of appetite and halos in the vision.[7]

Ricinus Communis

Ricinus Communis plant, also known as the Castor Oil plant is a species of perennial flowering plant that bears a handsome giant twelve-lobed palmate fanlike leaves that are bristly-spined, bronze to red with clusters of fruits. The fruits, however attractive are often removed before they mature because of the ricin found in the mottled beanlike seeds.

Castor oil plants are usually grown commercially for pharmaceutical and industrial use, harvesting its oil and the plant for landscaping purposes. Although it is said that the poison ricinfound in the castor oil bean is harmful to humans, the beans on its own is not dangerous as they are enclosed by an indigestible capsule. Ricin can be extracted from the bean through an extraction process that separates the poisonous protein from other plant proteins.

The ingestion of the poison Ricin through chewing the seeds of the castor oil plant can be lethal. The after effect of Ricin is not easily noticeable. It may take up to a day after the exposure for Ricin poisoning symptoms to show up, but it can kill a person within three days. On the bright side, if one can survive for more than five days after Ricin poisoning, it will be likely that the person will get through the ordeal.

Hopefully you are now able to identify the various plants and its potential danger. This is important to keep you and your family free from the potential dangers that may be lurking in your garden. Though these flowers are pretty and would look good in your garden, however it is not worth the risk. Well, not to worry, there are other alternative plants that you can opt for that are as gorgeous but not deadly or harmful. How to do so is to get educated about the plants before you decide to get one.

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Acokanthera Spectabilis Wintersweet


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