Poisonous Vascular Plants

(arranged by family)

Lower Vascular Plants

Ferns and related plants reproduce by dispersing spores rather than seeds.  Spores are found in either cone-like structures at the tip of the stems or in clusters on the back of the leaves.  These plants are herbaceous and are usually less than 3-4 ft tall.

Equisetaceae - Horsetail Family

Equisetum spp. - Horsetail, Scouring-rush

Description: (Fig.1) Stem erect, jointed, vertically ribbed, hollow; leaves whorled, minute, and fused into a sheath with terminal teeth; cones terminal, formed of shield-shaped sporangia-bearing structures. Two species grow in North Carolina. 

E. arvense L. - Field Horsetail.

Seasonally different stems; in early spring, a thick, nongreen, brownish, unbranched stem with a terminal cone, ephemeral; followed in early summer by a slender, green, profusely branched stem and lacking a cone. Stream banks, low wet floodplains, railroad embankments. Mainly mountains and piedmont, infrequently in the coastal plain (Map 2). 


E. hyemale L. - Scouring-rush.

Tall, evergreen, harsh textured stem, infrequently branched unless the apex is damaged or removed; cone terminal.

Habitat: Railroad embankments, roadsides, stream banks, old fields, or moist woods.

Distribution: Mainly mountains and piedmont; less frequent in the coastal plain (Map 2).

Group number: 2. (Dangerous, but rarely eaten)

Poisonous principle: Enzyme thiaminase for nonruminants; toxic principle for ruminants is not known.

Parts of plant: Aboveground parts; green or dried in hay. Hay containing 20% or more causes poisoning in horses in 2-5 weeks.

Periodicity: Spring through fall.

Animals poisoned: Horses, with sheep and cows less affected.

Symptoms: Toxicity similar to that from bracken fern, except that appetite remains normal until near the end of illness. Ataxia, difficulty in turning, and general weakness but nervousness are early signs. In later stages, animals may be constipated and muscles rigid, pulse rate increases and weakens, extremities become cold, cornea of eye may become opaque. Calm and eventually coma precede death.

Treatment: Parenteral thiamine (10 mg/kg body weight). Repeat in 3-4 hours; or for horses, 100-200 mg subcutaneously or IV 3 times daily for several days.


Dennstaedtiaceae - Bracken Family

Pteridium aquilinum (L.) Kuhn - Bracken fern, Brake

Description: (Fig. 2) Leaves (fronds) usually 10-40 in. tall, arising annually from a perennial underground creeping rhizome (stem). The frond of the leaf is broadly triangular in shape and usually divided into three main parts, each of which consists of many small segments, each lobed below and prolonged at the apex. The frond itself is often inclined to one side. The reproductive spores line the margin of the fertile segments and are partially covered by the narrow recurved margins. The plants are spread by the branching of the underground rhizome.

Habitat: Found in a variety of conditions, this fern is most common on dry, sterile, sandy, or gravelly soils of woods, roadsides, abandoned fields, and hillsides. It is most abundant in the open pine woods of the coastal plain, but it can be found from the mountains to the dunes.

Distribution: Found commonly throughout the state.

Group number: 1. (Dangerous!)

Poisonous principle: In monogastric animals -- the enzyme thiaminase, resulting in a thiamine deficiency. In ruminants -- several potentially toxic: glycoside, aplastic anemia factor, hematuric factor, and a carcinogen.

Parts of plant: Blade of the leaf and rhizome; fresh or dry.

Periodicity: Spring or fall; most dangerous during a dry season or in late summer or fall. Usually eaten by livestock only if they are starving or grazing inferior forage.

Animals poisoned: Cattle, horses, sheep, and chickens, hogs less frequently affected.

Symptoms: Cattle -- high fever, loss of appetite, weight loss, difficult breathing, salivation, ataxia, opisthotonos, convulsions, internal bleeding; often mistaken for anthrax and other infectious diseases of cattle. Death in 4-8 days. Horses -- unsteady gait, nervousness, timidity, congestion of visible mucous membranes, and constipation; later staggering, dilated pupils, opisthotonos, and death.

Treatment: Supplemental feeding in dry season; nerve sedatives, heart and respiratory stimulants. Massive doses of thiamine for horses (see treatment of Equisetum).

Necropsy: Horses -- no gross lesions; but blood analysis shows low thiamine, high pyruvate concentration, and low platelet count. Ruminants -- hemorrhages throughout, laryngeal edema, intestinal ulcers, low platelet count, and hypoplasia of bone marrow.

Related plants: Of doubtful importance is Onoclea sensibilis L. (sensitive fern). This is fairly common in the state in wet habitats and is sometimes associated with hay, causing disturbances when fed to horses.



The gymnosperms are characterized by "naked" seeds in cones, or red or blue "berries," and usually evergreen, needle-like or scale-like leaves.

Taxaceae - Yew Family

Taxus spp. - Yew

Several species are cultivated as ornamentals in North Carolina, but T. canadensis Marsh. is found naturally in North Carolina only in the extreme northwestern counties. These are evergreen shrubs with alternate, linear leaves and scarlet "berries"; only the outer red coat (aril) is edible.

Group number: 3. (Dangerous but uncommon)

Poisonous principle: Alkaloid taxine; ephedrine and HCN.

Parts of plant: Leaves bark, seeds. Fresh or dry.

Animals poisoned: All kinds, but cattle and horses are most commonly affected when yard clippings are thrown over fences where livestock graze.

Symptoms: Nervousness, trembling, ataxia, collapse, and dyspnea. Bradycardia is pronounced and progresses to sudden death without a struggle. A subacute poisoning may occur 1-2 days after ingestion; acute poisoning is accompanied by gastroenteritis.

Necropsy: Acute: no lesions. Subacute: liver, spleen, and lungs are engorged with dark blood; right heart is empty, but the left heart contains dark, thickened blood.


Pinaceae and Cupressaceae - Pine and Cedar Family

Pinus - Pine

Picea - Spruce

Juniperus - Cedar

Thuja - Arbor-Vitae

These conifers are seldom eaten, but may be harmful if eaten in large quanities, or when eaten exclusively when other forage is not available.


Flowering Plants

These plants' seeds are enclosed by the fruit, and the reproductive parts plus modified leaves (sepals and petals) form a "flower."  There are two classes, dicots and monocots.


Calycanthaceae - Strawberry-shrub Family

Calycanthus floridus L. - Allspice, Carolina allspice, Sweetshrub, Bubby-bush

Description: Shrub to 10 ft. tall; leaves opposite, glabrous or pubescent, simple, entire margined, ovate to oblong. Flowers with many brownish maroon parts, aromatic. Seeds (fruits) enclosed by a fibrous, elongated, sac-like husk.

Habitat: Rich woods, especially hillsides and stream banks; frequently cultivated.

Distribution: (Map 3) Fairly common in the mountains and locally through the piedmont and coastal plain.

Group number: 2. (Dangerous, but rarely eaten)

Poisonous principle: Calycanthin and related alkaloids.

Parts of plant: Primarily the "seeds."

Animals poisoned: Cattle.

Symptoms: Calycanthin is similar to strychnine in its action (convulsions, myocardial depression, and hypotension).


Ranunculaceae - Crowfoot Family

Aconitum spp.  - Aconite, Monkshood, Wolf's bane

Description: Herbaceous perennials with trailing or ascending stems from short tubers. Leaves alternate, palmately lobed or divided. Flowers in terminal racemes or panicles, white or deep blue-purple; sepals 5, the upper one hooded and not spurred at the base; stamens numerous. Fruit of 3-5 separate follicles.

Habitat: Rich woods and slopes.

Distribution: (Map 4) Mountains and rarely in the piedmont. There are two species in the state: A. reclinatum Gray, which has white flowers and A. uncinatum L., which has blue-purple flowers.

Group number: 3. (Dangerous but uncommon)

Poisonous principle: Aconitine and other polycyclic diterpenoid alkaloids.

Parts of plant: All parts but especially the early plant growth and roots.

Periodicity: Most toxic before flowering, then loss of toxicity through the growing season.

Animals poisoned: Cattle, horses, and sheep.

Symptoms: A gastrointestinal irritant producing restlessness, salivation, paralysis of the respiratory system, bloating, pupils contracted or dilated, slow pulse, muscular weakness, straddled stance, and spasms. The poison acts quickly, and symptoms are seldom seen. Death from respiratory paralysis.

Treatment: Physostigmine and/or pilocarpine subcutaneously have been suggested.

Necropsy: Neither marked nor specific.


Actaea spp- Baneberry, White cohosh, Snakeberry, Doll's-eyes

Description: Herbaceous perennial to 3 ft tall from a thick rhizome with fibrous roots. Leaf blades large, spreading, pinnately compound. Flowers whitish, in a long-stalked terminal raceme. Fruit a white or red, several-seeded berry.

Habitat: Rich woods and thickets.

Distribution: (Map 5) Common in the mountains and locally in the piedmont. Two species: A. pachypoda Ell. with white fruit, and A. rubra (Ait.) Willd. with red fruit.

Group number: 2. (Dangerous, but rarely eaten)

Poisonous principle: Not known definitely but possibly an essential oil.

Parts of plant: Entire plant, particularly the roots and berries.

Animals poisoned: Cattle.

Symptoms: Gastroenteritis, diarrhea, vomiting, and delirium.


Caltha palustris L. - Marsh-marigold, Cowslip  

The yellow-flowered cowslip of marshy ground is found rarely in the mountains (Map 6). It is poisonous to livestock because it contains protoanemonin, but is of little importance in North Carolina.


Delphinium spp. - Larkspur, Staggerweed

Description: Annuals, or herbaceous perennials, with alternate, long-stalked, palmately lobed or divided leaves. Flowers in terminal racemes; sepals 5, the upper one prolonged at the base into a spur; blue to purple or nearly white. Fruit of many-seeded follicles.

Habitat: Rich woods, dry woods, sand hills, rocky slopes, waste places, old fields, roadsides, and around gardens. Some species are cultivated and often escape and become locally abundant.

Distribution: There are five species distributed throughout the state; they are most common in the mountains and piedmont.

Group number: 3. (Dangerous but uncommon)

Poisonous principle: The alkaloids delphinine, ajacine, and others.

Parts of plant: Young plant, including the roots; seeds.

Periodicity: Entire growing season; toxicity decreases with maturity.

Animals poisoned: Cattle; this is one of the most important plants in the western states but it is not common enough in North Carolina to be very important as a poisonous plant. Sheep are more resistant.

Symptoms: See Aconitum. Death from respiratory and cardiac failure.

Treatment: Toxic effects are so rapid that treatment is most likely futile. Physostigmine, 1 grain; pilocarpine, 2 grains; strychnine, 1/2 grain. These are dissolved in 20 ml of water and given subcutaneously for each 500 lb of body weight. Sheep require 1/4 the above dosage.

Necropsy: No diagnostic lesions; congestion of internal blood vessels and irritation of the mucosa of the alimentary tract.


Ranunculus spp. - Buttercups, Crowfoot

Description: Low annual or perennial herb with a basal rosette of leaves; stem-leaves alternate, simple, lobed or divided. Flowers solitary or in clusters; sepals usually about 5, green or yellow; petals lacking or 5, yellow; stamens many. Fruit a head of achenes.

Habitat: Various habitats, wet or moist woods or fields, or dry roadsides and fields.

Distribution: Entire state; some species locally quite abundant.

Group number: 4. (Of minor importance)

Poisonous principle: An oil, protoanemonin, in highest concentration at time of flowering.

Parts of plant: Top leaves and stems; dry parts not toxic.

Periodicity: Spring, summer, and fall.

Animals poisoned: Cattle mostly, but all animals.

Symptoms: Salivation, loss of appetite, gastrointestinal irritation, colic, diarrhea, and slow pulse; milk of cows will be quite bitter and reddish in color.

Treatment: Purgative, demulcents, and heart stimulants.

Necropsy: Inflammation and lesions throughout digestive system; in ruminants, extensive hyperemia in abomasum and small intenstine.


Berberidaceae - Barberry Family

Caulophyllum thalictroides (L.) Michx. - Blue Cohosh

Description: Perennial herb with short, knotty rootstock. Stem simple, erect, bearing a large compound sessile leaf and a raceme or panicle of yellow-green or greenish purple flowers, each of which is about 3/8 in. across; flower parts in 6's. The solitary pistil splits while young and exposes the 2 ovules, which develop into dark blue naked seeds.

Habitat: Rich deciduous woods.

Distribution: (Map 7) Mountains and locally in the piedmont.

Group number: 4. (Of minor importance)

Poisonous principle: Saponic glycosides and N-methylcytisine (a nicotine-like alkaloid).

Parts of plant: Leaves and seeds.

Periodicity: Summer.

Animals poisoned: Cattle. Usually not eaten because the plants taste extremely bitter.

Symptoms: Irritation to mucous membranes.


Nandina domestica Thunb. - Nandina, Heavenly bamboo

This is a commonly cultivated shrub with divided leaves and bright red berries.  The berries may be dangerous to cats.  Toxic to all grazing animals, especially ruminants.  Cyanogenic glycoside in foliage.  See Prunus for treatment of cyanide poisoning.


Podophyllum peltatum L. - May-apple, Mandrake

Description: (Fig. 3) Perennial herb with a creeping rhizome and thick, fibrous roots. Stems with one or two large, circular, umbrella-shaped, 5-9 lobed leaves. Flower solitary, nodding, white, with 6 sepals and 6-9 petals. Fruit a large, fleshy berry, yellow when ripe, edible. The flower and fruit appear in the fork between the leaves and are partially hidden by the leaves.

Habitat: Rich woods and open fields or pastures. Usually found in clumps of many plants (often many plants from the same original rhizome).

Distribution: Common and scattered throughout the entire state.

Group number: 2. (Dangerous, but rarely eaten)

Poisonous principle: A mixture of compounds called podophyllin, a drug used as a purgative in small amounts. It is caustic to the gastrointestinal tract; overdoses can be fatal.

Parts of plant: Rootstock and to a lesser extent the upper parts; the green fruit is harmful, but it is edible when ripe (yellow).

Periodicity: Spring and summer.

Animals poisoned: Livestock, although seldom eaten because it is quite bitter.

Symptoms: Salivation, diarrhea, excitement.


Papaveraceae - Poppy Family

Argemone mexicana L. - Mexican pricklepoppy, Thorn-apple, Yellowthistle, Prickly-poppy

Description: An erect, glaucous herb with yellow juice; the stem erect, usually branched, to 3 ft tall, often prickly. Leaves alternate, sessile, and clasping the stem, coarsely lobed and spiny on the margin and usually on the midrib. Flowers solitary, showy, with 4-6 yellowish petals; fruit a prickly capsule with 3-6 valves opening near the top; seeds many and small.

Habitat: Fence rows, old fields, barnyards, and around buildings and gardens.

Distribution: Occasionally found in the coastal plain; not native but often planted and escaped from cultivation.

Group number: 3. (Dangerous but uncommon)

Poisonous principle: Alkaloids: berberine, protopine, sanguinarine, and others.

Parts of plant: Vegetative parts and seeds.

Periodicity: Late summer and fall.

Animals poisoned: Poultry.

Symptoms: Leads to a decrease in egg production, edema, depression, ataxia, hemorrhagic enteritis, and finally death.

Necropsy: Widespread edema.


Chelidonium majus L. - Greater celandine, Swallow-wort, Rock-poppy

Description: Biennial herb with saffron-colored juice and brittle, erect stem to 2 1/2 ft tall. Leaves alternate, pinnately divided into 5-9 segments. Flowers yellow, sepals 2, petals 4, stamens numerous; fruit a slender capsule, 2-valved, opening from the bottom upward.

Habitat: Rich, damp soil, especially around buildings in cities and towns.

Distribution: A native of Eurasia and naturalized in this country. Rare, scattered throughout various parts of the state.

Group number: 3. (Dangerous but uncommon)

Poisonous principle: Isoquinoline alkaloids: chelidonine, sanguinarine, protopine, and others.

Parts of plant: Primarily the roots.

Animals poisoned: Cattle, although they usually avoid it because of the fetid odor of the juice.

Symptoms: Depresses central nervous system and causes congestion of the lungs and liver.


Papaver somniferum L. - Common poppy, Opium poppy

Description: Erect, annual, glaucous herb with milky juice; stem to 3 ft tall. Leaves alternate, sessile and clasping, not spiny; margin wavy, lobed, or toothed. Flowers large, bluish white to red with a purple center, petals 4-12. Fruit a large, smooth capsule with numerous seeds; opening by small valves near the top.

Habitat: Around gardens and waste places.

Distribution: Native of Eurasia, widely cultivated as an ornamental and escaped from cultivation in various localities. Rare in North Carolina. Illegal to plant.

Group number: 3. (Dangerous but uncommon)

Poisonous principle: Opium alkaloids.

Parts of plant: Entire plant. Garden clippings are poisonous.

Animals poisoned: Cattle, but only rarely.

Treatment: Sedatives.


Sanguinaria canadensis L. - Bloodroot

Description: (Fig. 4) Perennial herb with orange-red juice, arising from a horizontal rhizome. Leaf basal, solitary blade rounded with 3-9 lobes that are undulate to coarsely toothed. Flower solitary, sepals 2, dropping as flower opens; petals 8-16, white; stamens numerous; appearing in early spring. Fruit an elongate capsule.

Habitat: Rich woods and among bushes along fence rows.

Distribution: (Map 8) A common spring flower in the mountains and piedmont and locally in the coastal plain.

Group number: 2. (Dangerous, but rarely eaten)

Poisonous principle: The alkaloid sanguinarine and others.

Parts of plant: Rhizome.

Animals poisoned: Cattle and hogs, but seldom eaten because of the plant's acrid taste.

Symptoms: Nausea, vomiting, faintness, vertigo, insensibility; death due to cardiac paralysis if eaten in quantity.


Fumariaceae - Fumitory Family

Corydalis spp. - Corydalis, Fumewort

Description: Annual or biennial herbs with pale or glaucous leafy stems to 2 ft high. Leaves alternate, 2- or 3-compound. Flowers yellow, pink, or light purple in racemes or short panicles; petals irregular, 1-spurred at the base (on the upper side). Fruit a spreading, ascending, or drooping capsule with many seeds. 

C. flavula (Raf.) DC. - Yellow corydalis, Yellow harlequin. Flowers yellow, 6-9 mm long with spur 2 mm; fruits drooping.


C. sempervirens (L.) Pers. - Pale corydalis, Pink corydalis, Rock fumewort.

Flowers pink or light purple; fruits erect.


C. micrantha (Englem.) Gray - Slender fumewort.

Flowers yellow, 10-18 mm long, with spur 4-8 mm; fruits erect.

Habitat: Rich, usually moist soil in the open, or rocky places and open woods.

Distribution: (Map 9) C. flavula and C. sempervirens are found in the mountains and piedmont; C. micrantha is found only in the lower coastal plain.

Group number: 3. (Dangerous but uncommon)

Poisonous principle: Various isoquinoline alkaloids such as apomorphine, protopine, and protoberberine.

Parts of plant: Leaves if eaten in quantity (2-5 % of body weight).

Periodicity: Primarily in the spring.

Animals poisoned: Cattle, sheep, and horses.

Symptoms: Weakness in breathing and heartbeat, staggering, twitching, finally convulsions and death.

Necropsy: Congestion and irritation of gastrointestinal tract.


Dicentra spp. - Dicentra

Description: Perennial, glabrous, short-stemmed herbs from a cluster of small tubers or stout fleshy rootstocks. Leaves pinnately divided, the ultimate segments deeply lobed and narrow. Flowers in a raceme or panicle; corolla 2-spurred on the upper side. Fruit a many-seeded capsule.

D. canadensis (Goldie) Walp. - Squirrel-corn, Turkey-corn.

 Flowers with 2 short rounded spurs; wihte or pale pink; tubers yellowish. 


D. cucullaria (L.) Bernh. - Dutchman's breeches.

Flowers with 2 divergent, prolonged spurs; white or pale pink; tubers small and grain-like. 


D. eximia (Kerr) Torr. - Bleeding-heart, Turkey-corn, Staggerweed.

Flowers with 2 rounded spurs; dark pink; rootstock stout and fleshy. (Fig. 5)

Habitat: Rich woods and cliffs; D. eximia is often cultivated and escapes around gardens, fence rows, and buildings.

Distribution: (Map 10) Mountains and only locally in the piedmont.

Group number: 2. (Dangerous, but rarely eaten)

Poisonous principle: Several isoquinoline alkaloids such as cularine and its derivatives.

Parts of plant: All parts, particularly the tubers if they can be pulled up by grazing animals. 

Periodicity: Spring and summer.

Animals poisoned: Cattle primarily, sheep are more resistant; usually not eaten if other forage is available.

Symptoms: Trembling, staggering, salivation and frothing at mouth, convulsions, vomiting, diarrhea, and labored breathing; decrease in milk. Rapid recovery; death is rare.

Treatment: Heart, respiratory stimulants, and nerve sedatives; oil type cathartic to reduce absorption of toxic compounds.


Cannabaceae - Hemp Family

Cannabis sativa L. - Marijuana, Hemp, Indian Hemp

Description: (Fig. 6) A coarse, rough-stemmed annual to 12 ft. tall; palmately divided leaves with 3-7 leaflets which are narrow and coarsely toothed; leaves opposite below and alternate in the upper portion of the plant; flowers small and green, the sexes separate.

Habitat: Escaped cultivation in waste places or old fields.

Distribution: Rare as an escape; illegally planted in various parts of the state. Native of Asia.

Group number: 3. (Dangerous but uncommon)

Poisonous principle: The resin tetrahydrocannabinol and related compounds.

Parts of plant: Leaves but highest concentration in flower stalks.

Periodicity: Most dangerous in summer during hot weather.

Animals poisoned: Cattle and horses.

Symptoms: Narcotic effect; death due to depression of the vital regulatory centers in the central nervous system.

Treatment: Remove from source. Respiratory and cardiac stimulants with supportive therapy.

Necropsy: Congestion and ecchymotic hemorrhages of various organs.


Juglandaceae - Walnut Family

Juglans spp.  - Butternut, White Walnut, Black Walnut

Description: Deciduous trees; twigs with dark, chambered pith. Leaves alternate, pinnately divided into 7-23 leaflets, each nearly sessile, lanceolate or oblong-lanceolate, margin serrate, apex pointed; petioles, rachis, and leaflets glandular pubescent and aromatic. Pollen flowers in long, drooping catkins; female flowers in small clusters. Fruit a large nut, the shell thick and hard with a sharply ridged surface, enclosed in an indehiscent husk. Two species grow in North Carolina.

J. cinerea L. - Butternut, White walnut.

Nut elongated. Found in rich woods, but infrequent in mountains and upper piedmont. 


J. nigra L. - Black Walnut.

Nut globose.  Found in rich woods; scattered throughout.

Group number: 2. (Dangerous, but rarely eaten)

Poisonous principle: Juglone (phenolic derivative of naphthoquinone).

Parts of plant: Leaves; wood shavings as bedding in horse stalls.

Periodicity: Spring to fall.

Animals poisoned: Horses.

Symptoms: Symptoms can be brought on by exposure in stalls containing more than 20% black walnut shavings; within 24 hours of exposure, animals experience reluctance to move, depression; increased temperature, pulse, and respiration; abdominal sounds; digital pulse; digital limb edema; severe lameness-laminitis; nonfatal.

Treatment: Remove shavings promptly. Treat limb edema.

Necropsy: Laminitis and edema of lower limb.


Fagaceae - Beech Family

Quercus spp. - Oaks

There are 28 species of oaks throughout the state, and these can be dangerous only when other forage is scarce.

Group number: 4. (Of minor importance)

Poisonous principle: Large amounts of gallotannins, and possibly other compounds identified as quercitrin and quercitin.

Parts of plant: Acorns; young shoots (leaves) when taken in quantity without other feed. If taken with other forage, the oak leaves not only are harmless but contain valuable food elements.

Periodicity: Usually in the spring when other food is scarce and the young oak leaves are tender and palatable; or tender sprouts from cut trunks.

Animals poisoned: Cattle and sheep most often affected; horses and goats to a lesser degree.

Symptoms: Gastrointestinal and renal dysfunction; constipation and later bloody diarrhea, loss of appetite, rough coat, dry muzzle, excessive thirst and urination, pulse weak and rapid. Depression, emaciation, rumea stasis.

Treatment: Oil-type laxative; ruminotorics, parenteral fluid; nutrient therapy, and glucocorticoids. Feeding 10% calcium hydroxide may prevent symptoms. Transplantation of ruminal microflora. If illness has progressed to the point of advanced renal dysfunction, it is rare for animals to recover.

Necropsy: Gastritis and enteritis, with a bloody false membrane forming in the intestine; increased peritoneal and plural fluids and petechiation on the subserous tissue, kidney, and heart; necrosis of the proximal tubules, numerous hyaline casts in the kidney, and necrosis of the liver as seen microscopically. Perirenal edema.


Phytolaccaceae - Pokeweed Family

Phytolacca americana L. - Common pokeweed, Poke, Inkberry, Pigeonberry

Description: (Fig. 7) A coarse, smooth branching herb, 3-12 ft tall, with a large perennial rootstock. Stems green, red, or purple; leaves alternate, 3-12 in. long, simple, petioled. Flowers and fruit in long racemes which are more or less drooping in fruit. Fruit a dark purple berry composed of 5-12 segments fused in a ring.

Habitat: Fields, fence rows, rich low grounds, clearings, waste places, around buildings, and roadsides; often common on dump heaps in pastures, barn lots, and hog pens.

Distribution: Common throughout the state. The plants along the coast with short, erect fruiting racemes are recognized as P. rigida Small.

Group number: 1. (Dangerous!)

Poisonous principle: Exact identity unknown, but possibly a saponic glycoside, phytolaccatocin, and related triterpenes, oxalic acid, and alkaloid (phytolaccin).

Parts of plant: Most poisoning occurs when the roots are eaten; shoot, leaves, and berries are also poisonous if eaten fresh and in toxic quantities.

Periodicity: Spring, summer, and fall.

Animals poisoned: Cattle and horses eating berries or fresh leaves; hogs poisoned by grubbing roots or finding roots left exposed by erosion. Abortion in cows has been caused by their eating leaves and stems.

Symptoms: Severe gastrointestinal irritation after two hours. Vomiting, bloody diarrhea, hemolytic anemia. Spasms, purging, convulsions, and finally death caused by paralysis of the respiratory organs from the narcotic action of the poison.

Treatment: Respiratory stimulants, gastric and nervous sedatives. Tannic acid may be helpful. Oils and gastrointestinal protectants. Diluted acetic acid orally, stimulants, and possibly blood transfusion.

Necropsy: Severe hemorrhagic, ulcerative gastritis, and extensive swelling and hemorrhage in the liver.


Caryophyllaceae - Pink Family

Agrostemma githago L. - Corn cockle, Corn campion

Description: (Fig. 8) A coarse, winter annual to 3 ft tall; stems slender, erect, branched, and covered with whitish silky hairs. Leaves opposite, sessile, linear, to 5 in. long. Flowers solitary on long slender stalks; petals 5, pink to purple; stamens 10. Fruit a capsule with 5 valves; seeds many, dark brown or black, about the size of wheat, and covered with small warts.

Habitat: Wheat fields, oat fields, chicken yards, and waste places.

Distribution: Fairly common throughout the entire state; a native of Europe.

Group number: 2. (Dangerous, but rarely eaten)

Poisonous principle: The saponic glycoside githagenin.

Parts of plant: Seeds and, to some extent, the leaves.

Periodicity: Summer and fall, also spring and winter.

Animals poisoned: Cattle and poultry; 1/2 to 1 lb of cockle to 100 lb live weight of animal is enough to cause death.

Symptoms: Repeated eating of small doses causes a chronic poisoning called githagism; large doses cause acute poisoning, irritation of the digestive tract, vomiting, nausea, vertigo, diarrhea, rapid breathing, rapid pulse, hemoglobinuria, coma, and eventually death.

Treatment: Intestinal astringents, respiratory stimulants, and nerve sedatives. Oil and demulcents orally. Blood transfusion may be necessary.

Necropsy: Hemorrhages on the heart and diaphragm and in kidneys and liver; extensive congestion in the liver, kidneys, and spleen; edematous gall bladder and bile duct; microscopic necrosis in liver.


Saponaria officinalis L. - Bouncingbet, Soapwort

Description: Herbaceous perennial from a horizontal rhizome. Stems to 3 ft long; leaves opposite, sessile, acute at the apex. Flowers with 5 white or pinkish petals. Fruit a capsule with many small seeds.

Habitat: Roadsides, waste places, and around old home sites.

Distribution: A native of Europe, this species is often planted as an ornamental and very often escapes cultivation throughout the state.

Group number: 2. (Dangerous, but rarely eaten)

Poisonous principle: Saponin.

Parts of plant: Seeds, and to some extent, the foliage and roots.

Periodicity: Summer.

Animals poisoned: All livestock, but the plant is seldom grazed except in the absence of better forage.

Symptoms: Typical saponin poisoning, see Agrostemma.

Treatment: Oils and demulcents orally; digitalis if indicated.


Chenopodiaceae - Goosefoot Family

Chenopodium ambrosioides L. - Wormseed, Mexicantea, Stinkweed

Description: Coarse annual or perennial to 4 ft tall, strongly aromatic and with small yellowish glands; leaves alternate, coarsely toothed to nearly entire. Flowers and fruits small and crowded in dense but leafy and elongated inflorescences.

Habitat: Waste places, barnyards, and cultivated grounds.

Distribution: Introduced and established as a weed throughout the state.

Group number: 2. (Dangerous, but rarely eaten)

Poisonous principle: The oxide ascaridol.

Parts of plant: Seeds.

Periodicity: Most dangerous when seeds form; usually not eaten because of their disagreeable odor.

Animals poisoned: Poultry (eating seeds).

Symptoms: Vomiting, gastritis, muscular weakness, and vertigo.

Treatment: Diuretic, demulcent, cardiac stimulants, and excess of fluids.

Related plants: Chenopodium album L., the common lambsquarters (Fig. 9), may be important as a source of nitrate poisoning. Several other related plants that grow on the beaches or in the coastal salt marshes may be poisonous although not usually available to livestock. These are Salicornia spp. (glasswort), Salsola kali (spiny saltwort), Suaeda linearis (sea-blite), and Atriplex arenaria (beach-orach).


Amaranthaceae - Pigweed Family

Amaranthus retroflexus L. - Redroot pigweed

Description: (Fig. 10) Erect, branched, stout-stemmed, hairy, annual herb to 6 ft tall, lacking spines; leaves alternate, lanceolate, long-stalked, with toothed margin; flowers small and greenish in terminal and lateral clusters of densely crowded spikes.

Habitat: Weed of cultivated fields and waste places.

Distribution: Scattered in the mountains and piedmont.

Group number: 2. (Dangerous, but rarely eaten)

Poisonous principle: Unknown, though oxalates and nitrates are found.

Parts of plant: All parts.

Periodicity: Summer and fall.

Animals poisoned: Pigs, cattle, and sheep.

Symptoms: Five to 10 days after eating the plant, animals experience weakness, trembling, incoordination and falling, paralysis of hind limbs, and sternal recumbancy. They die from cardiac-associated hyperkalemic effects within 48 hours after the onset of symptoms. Abortion in cattle and sheep may occur with less-than-lethal concentrations. Nitrate poisoning may occur with less-than-lethal amounts ingested.

Treatment: Immediately remove animals from pastures. No satisfactory treatment has been found.

Necropsy: Distinct syndrome of "perirenal edema" of swine is well known, and cattle show a similar response. Edema of connective tissue around kidneys, with blood in the edema fluid, and edema of the ventral abdominal wall and perirectal area; kidneys pale, with scattered areas of hyperemia extending into the cortex; bladder edematous; extensive thoracic and abdominal fluids.


Polygonaceae - Buckwheat Family

Because of their high oxalate content, a number of plants in this family (Fagopyrum, Polygonum, Rumex, Rheum) deserve brief mention as possible sources of poisoning, although none is considered very important.

Fagopyrum esculentum Moench. - Buckwheat

Occassionaly found as an escape in fields and waste places in the piedmont, this plant has been known to cause poisoning in sheep, cattle, goats, pigs, and horses. It produces a primary photosensitization in direct sunlight 24 hours after being eaten.


Polygonum spp. - Smartweeds, Knotweeds

Rumex spp. - Sorrel, Dock

Rheum rhabarbarum L. - Rhubarb

Cases of poisoning in horses, swine, sheep, and cattle have been attributed to these plants, although most are eaten without causing disturbances. Curly dock and rhubarb are frequently associated with hypocalcemia and kidney damage from calcium oxalate crystals.


Clusiaceae - St. Johnswort Family

Hypericum perforatum L. - Common St. Johnswort, Goat-weed, Klamathweed

Description: Perennial herb, much branched. Leaves opposite, sessile, entire, glabrous with very small, almost transparent dots. Flowers numerous in open, leafy, flat-topped clusters; petals 5, yellow; stamens many. Fruit a 3-valved capsule with many seeds.

Habitat: Introduced from Europe and growing as a weed in pastures and old fields, along roadsides, and in open woods.

Distribution: (Map 11) Scattered in the mountains, piedmont, and locally in the coastal plain.

Group number: 4. (Of minor importance)

Poisonous principle: Hypericin, a fluorescent substance.

Periodicity: Summer.

Animals poisoned: Animals with areas of white skin.

Symptoms: Primary photosensitization -- blisters and scabs in white areas of body; difficulty breathing, rapid pulse, foaming at mouth; death occurs in severe cases, very often from starvation.

Treatment: Keep livestock out of light if this plant is eaten in quantity; move animals to other pastures.


Brassicaceae - Mustard Family

The members of this family are not usually considered to be poisonous. Although grazed frequently without harm, they produce seeds that are rich in one or more mustard-oil glycosides which can give trouble under certain conditions, or they may cause nitrate poisoning. Feeds containing large amounts of seeds of Brassica spp. (mustard), Lepidium spp. (pepperweed), Raphanus spp. (wild radish) or others can cause intestinal disorders, abortion, hemolysis, or paralysis of the heart and lungs when fed to cattle, horses, and pigs.


Bataceae - Saltwort Family

The saltwort or beachwort (Batis maritima L.) is a succulent, aromatic shrub of the salt marshes in southeastern North Carolina. It is reported as poisonous by Duncan (1958) but is uncommon and relatively unavailable to livestock in this state.

Ericaceae - Heath Family

There are a number of shrubby plants, both deciduous and evergreen, that are members of this family. Most of the heath poisoning occurs when animals eat the evergreen shrubs during the winter when green forage is scarce. Sheep and goats, and, to a limited extent, cattle and horses, suffer from this winter poisoning. Most important among the poisonous shrubs are Kalmia, Rhododendron, and Pieris, but others may be just as dangerous if eaten in large quantities. Wild animals are not as subject to poisoning as are domestic animals, and they often feed freely on these evergreen heaths especially during snow, or during the winter months in general. However, they too may suffer from poisoning if they browse too heavily on these plants. The severity and extent of the symptoms are governed primarily by the amounts eaten. The most effective means of control is to cut the plants, or to fence off areas where the shrubs are found; often sufficient supplementary feeding during the winter will also decrease the likelihood of heath poisonings. Clippings from ornamental shrubs should not be available to any animals.

Kalmia spp. - Laurel

Description: Shrubs with leathery, evergreen leaves. Flowers white, rose, purple, or crimson, saucer-shaped upper portion, the 10 anthers at first stuck singly in small pockets in the sides of the corolla. Fruit a somewhat flat-topped globose capsule of 5 carpels.  The two species, and their identifying characters, habitats, and distributions, are described below.

K. carolina Small - Lambkill, Sheep-laurel, Wicky, Sheepkill.

Small shrub 1-3 ft tall; leaves opposite or in whorls of 3, 1-2 in. long, pale beneath; flowers in short lateral clusters (Fig. 11).  Acid soils; dry, sandy habitats or in bogs.  Found in the coastal plain and locally in the mountains (Map 12). 


K. latifolia L. - Mountain laurel, Mountain ivy, Ivy-bush.

Large shrub 3-35 ft tall; leaves nearly all alternate, 1 1/2 to 4 1/2 in. long, bright green below; flowers in terminal clusters (Fig. 12).  Moist woods or stream banks.  Found throughout the entire state except eastern coastal plain (Map 13).   

Group number: 1. (Dangerous!)

Poisonous principle: Andromedotoxin, a resinoid; or arbutin, a glycoside.

Parts of plant: Leaves, twigs, and nectar; 0.1-1.5% animal weight necessary to cause symptoms.

Periodicity: Winter and early spring, when other forage is scarce.

Animals poisoned: Mostly sheep and goats but also cattle and horses. "Poison honey" is occasionally formed when bees visit Kalmia. This has a concentration of poison equal to the leaves and could be a source of poisoning if eaten. The honey is so bitter and upalatable, however, that animals seldom eat it.

Symptoms: The andromedotoxin has the following effects: loss of appetite, repeated swallowing with salivation, nasal discharge, dullness, depression, nausea and vomiting, frequent defecation. Secondary aspiration pneumonia is possible. Animals later become weak and lose coordination, lie prostrate, have difficulty breathing, and fall into a coma.

Treatment: Diuretics, laxatives, nerve stimulants, and gastric sedatives or demulcents. Fluid therapy is essential.

Necropsy: Gastrointestinal irritation and some hemorrhage; acute parenchymatous nephritis with some necrosis in the tubules; albuminous degeneration in the liver. Lung lesions from aspiration pneumonia.


Leucothoe spp. - Fetterbush, Leucothoe

Description: Shrubs with evergreen or deciduous leaves which are alternate, slightly toothed, and petioled. Flowers small, white, inverted urn-shaped, in elongated, axillary or terminal clusters. Fruit a globular or 5-lobed capsule with the top more or less depressed.  The four species, with identifying characters, habitats, and distributions are described below.

L. axillaris (Lam.) D. Don - Leucothoe, Fetter-bush.

Evergreen, abruptly to gradually pointed leaves; stems green and slightly arching; flowers on all sides of the axillary clusters (Fig. 13).  Damp woods and thickets.  Coastal plain (Map 14).


L. fontanesiana (Steud.) Sleum. (L. editorum Fern. & Shub.) - Dog-hobble, Leucothoe, Switch-ivy.

Evergreen, taper-pointed leaves; stems green and broadly arching; flowers on all sides of the axillary clusters (Fig. 14).  Moist woods and stream banks.  Mountains and upper piedmont (Map 15).


L. racemosa (L.) Gray - Fetter-bush, Leucothoe.

Deciduous leaves; stems erect and gray; flower clusters terminal, straight, divergent to erect and with flowers only on one side; fruit not lobed (Fig. 15).  Various moist habitats.  Coastal plain, piedmont, and rarely in the mountains (Map 16).


L. recurva (Buckl.) Gray - Fetter-bush, Leucothoe.

Deciduous leaves; stems erect and gray; flower clusters terminal, recurving and with flowers only on one side; fruit 5-lobed (Fig. 16).  Moist or dry woods.  Mountains and occasionally in the upper piedmont (Map 17).

Group number: 1. (Dangerous!)

Poisonous principle, Symptoms, etc.: As in Kalmia.


Lyonia spp. - Lyonia

Deciduous shrubs with alternate leaves. Flowers in terminal racemes or panicles, white or pink and urn-shaped. Fruit globose or pear-shaped, not depressed at the apex.  Descriptions of the two species, with identifying characters, habitats, and distributions are given below. 

L. ligustrina (L.) DC. - Maleberry, Male-blueberry, He-huckleberry.  

Corolla about 1/4 in. long, globose with spreading lobes; fruit globose (Fig. 17).  Moist fields and woods.  Throughout the entire state.


L. mariana (L.) D. Don - Stagger-bush.

Corolla about 3/8 to 5/8 in. long, cylindric; fruit pear-shaped (Fig. 18).  Moist or dry sandy soil of open fields, woods, and roadsides.  Coastal plain and lower piedmont (Map 18).

Group number: 1. (Dangerous!)

Poisonous principle, Symptoms, etc.: As in Kalmia.

Related plants: The closely related plant, Lyonia lucida (Lam.) K. Koch (fetter-bush), is common on the coastal plain and is not poisonous. This species is evergreen, the leaves have a conspicuous vein near each margin, and the fruits are globose (Fig. 18).


Pieris floribunda (Pursh) B. & H. - Mountain Fetter-bush

Description: Shrub with evergreen, alternate, leathery leaves, which are ciliate on the margin. Flowers in several racemes crowded in short terminal panicles; corolla white, inverted urn-shaped, constricted near the tubular tip, the short lobes somewhat spreading. Fruit a globose capsule.

Habitat: Rich woods.

Distribution: (Map 19) Uncommon, in the high mountains only.

Group number: 3. (Dangerous but uncommon)

Poisonous principle, Symptoms, etc.: As in Kalmia.

Related plants: The Japanese andromeda (Pieris japonica (Thunb.) D. Don) is commonly cultivated as an ornamental shrub. Clippings should not be available to animals.


Rhododendron spp. - Rhododendron

Description: Shrub or small bushy tree to 30 ft tall. Leaves evergreen alternate, 4-8 in. long; leathery with smooth margin. Flowers in terminal clusters; petals white, rose, or rose-purple, spotted with yellow and orange within. Fruit a cylindrical capsule.  The distinguishing characters, habitats, and distributions are given below for the two species.

R. catawbiense Michx. - Catawba rhododendron, Mountain rosebay, Purple-laurel, Purple ivy.

Leaves rounded at the base and apex, glabrous beneath; flowers rose to lilac-purple; capsule rusty-pubescent (Fig. 19).  Rocky summits, upper slopes, rich woods, and stream banks.  Mountains, upper and lower piedmont (Map 20).


R. maximum L. - Rosebay rhododendron, Great-laurel, White-laurel, Great-ivy.  

Leaves narrowed at the base and apex, usually pubescent beneath; flowers white to rose or purple; capsule glandular (Fig. 20).  Moist or wet woods and stream banks.  Mountains and upper piedmont (Map 21).

Group number: 1. (Dangerous!)

Poisonous principle, Symptoms, etc.: As in Kalmia.


Primulaceae - Primrose Family

Anagallis arvensis L. - Scarlet pimpernel

Description: Low-growing, sprawling, herbaceous, winter annuals often rooting at the lower nodes; stem 4-angled in cross-section. Leaves opposite, ovate, entire margined, sessile. Flowers solitary in the leaf axils, on long stalks; 5-parted with fused petals, scarlet or brick red, sometimes blue or rarely white, opening only in fair weather, quickly closing at the approach of summer storms or very cloudy weather. Fruit a capsule dehiscing by a terminal cap, recurved due to a drooping stalk.

Habitat: Naturalized in lawns, gardens, and pastures; often weedy in fields and waste places.

Distribution: (Map 22) Mostly in the piedmont and northern coastal plain.

Group number: 3. (Dangerous but uncommon)

Poisonous principle: Unknown.

Parts of plant: All parts.

Periodicity: June through September.

Animals poisoned: All livestock.

Symptoms: Depression, anorexia, diarrhea with ingestion of plant parts to 2% of animal weight.

Treatment: Emesis or gastric lavage.

Necropsy: Hemorrhaging of kidney, heart, and rumen, congestion of lungs, and a pale, friable liver.


Hydrangeaceae - Hydrangea Family

Hydrangea spp. - Smooth hydrangea, Wild hydrangea, Seven-bark

Description: (Fig. 21) Shrubs with opposite, petioled leaves, the blads glabrous or pubescent beneath. Flowers white, in flat-topped inflorescences.

Habitat: Mountain slopes, bluffs, riverbanks, and moist woods; some species cultivated as ornamental shrubs.

Distribution: (Map 23) The native hydrangea is H. arborescens L., which is found mostly in the mountains, but locally eastward into the coastal plain. Some other species are cultivated throughout the state.

Group number: 2. (Dangerous, but rarely eaten)

Poisonous principle: Possibly a cyanogenetic glycoside.

Parts of plant: Leaves in partially wilted condition.

Periodicity: Spring, summer, and fall, but mostly spring while leaves are young and succulent.

Symptoms: Gastrointestinal irritation. Sudden death from cyanide poisoning.

Treatment: Parenteral sodium nitrite/sodium thiosulfate.


Rosaceae - Rose Family

Prunus serotina Ehrh. - Black cherry, Cherry

Description: (Fig. 22) Tree 15-60 ft tall at maturity. Bark of twigs very bitter. Leaves alternate, simple, 1-5 in. long, deciduous, the margin finely toothed with blunt teeth; petiole with glands at the upper end, just below the blade, or sometimes on the base of the blade itself; leaf glabrous and shiny above and glabrous below with dense hairs along lower part of the midrib. Flowers white, small, in racemes terminating the leafy branches of the current year. Fruit a dark purple or black drupe with one seed in a hard pit.

Habitat: Woods and along fence rows, edges of fields, and often in abandoned fields. Stump sprouts are common.

Distribution: Common throughout the entire state.

Group number: 1. (Dangerous!)

Poisonous principle: Hydrocyanic acid (also called prussic acid), which is one of the decomposition products formed by the action of enzymes on the glycoside amygdalin. Many factors appear to contribute to the formation of the acid, but it is most commonly found when the leaves are partially wilted. When fresh leaves are eaten, they release hydrogen cyanide (HCN) in the stomach or rumen after mastication.

Parts of plant: Leaves, twigs, bark, or seeds. Discarded fruit pits should not be available to dogs or caged birds.

Periodicity: Spring, summer, and fall; fresh, or wilted due to frost, drought, or broken branches.

Animals poisoned: Cattle, horses, sheep, goats, dogs, and birds.

Symptoms: Peracute course: difficult breathing, vertigo, spasms, convulsions, coma, and sickness of short duration, followed by death. Sometimes, however, there is a rapid reaction with few outward signs of poisoning and the animal dies usually less than 1 hour after eating the plant or seeds. Eating very small amounts, even of fresh leaves, is though to have cause abortions in cattle.

Treatment: Parenteral sodium nitrite and sodium thiosulfate by a veterinarian may be helpful if given promptly. Oxidizing substances such as potassium permanganate or hydrogen peroxide given as a drench may be of some help. Also vigorous respiratory, heat, and nerve stimulants would be of aid.

Necropsy: Blood and mucous membranes become bright red, and blood clots slowly; congestion of liver and distension of venous system; congestion and hemorrhage in the trachea and lungs, and on serous membrane surfaces; odor of almonds may be apparent.

Related plants: Four other species throughout the state (Map 24) are also poisonous although infrequently eaten. They are as follows: 

P. caroliniana Ait. - Carolina laurelcherry.

Evergreen tree; coastal plain and often planted elsewhere. 


P. pensylvanica L. - Pin cherry, Fire cherry, Bird cherry.

Deciduous; mountains. 


P. persica (L.) Batsch. - Peach.

Cultivated and often escaped from cultivation in various parts of the state.


P. virginiana L. - Chokecherry.

Deciduous; mountains and upper piedmont.


Photinia spp. - Photinia  

The evergreen photinias are popular ornamental shrubs grown for their round clusters of white flowers, red berries, and particularly their red new leaves in the spring. Cuttings from these shrubs can be poisonous because they contain hydrocyanic acid similar to Prunus.


Caesalpiniaceae - Caesalpinia Family

Senna obtusifolia (L.) Irwin & Barneby (Cassia obtusifolia L.; C. tora of earlier authors) - Sicklepod

Description: (Fig. 23) Coarse, annual herb to 5 ft tall. Leaves alternate, pinnately divided into 4-6 leaflets, each obovate and entire margined. Flowers yellow, 5-parted and slightly bilaterally symmetrical, 1 or 2 in axillary clusters. Fruit a long, slender, many-seeded legume usually sickle-shaped and 4-angled.

Habitat: Frequently found as a weed in soybean fields, along roadsides, in abandoned fields, or in waste places.

Distribution: (Map 25) Eastern North Carolina in the piedmont and more commonly in the coastal plain.

Group number: 4. (Of minor importance; weakly toxic, but questionable)

Poisonous principle: Anthraquinones; emodin glycosides. Seeds also contain chrysarobin and lectin (toxalbumins); alkaloids.

Parts of plant: Leaves, stems, and raw seeds.

Periodicity: Spring to fall; green or dry, cumulative toxicity.

Animals poisoned: Cattle and possibly others.

Symptoms: Effect on skeletal muscles, kidney, and liver. Afebrile, ataxia, and diarrhea are generally the first symptoms observed. Later the animals stop eating, appear lethargic, and get tremors in their hind legs; urine may become dark and coffee-colored and the animals becomes recumbent and unable to rise. Death can occur 12 hours after animal goes down from hyperkalemic-induced heart failure.

Necropsy: Cardiac and skeletal muscle degeneration; congestion, fatty degeneration, and centrilobular liver necrosis; pathologic kidney and lung changes.

Related plants: 

Senna occidentalis (L.) Link (Cassia occidentalis L.) - Coffee senna or coffee weed.

Similar to the above except for 8-12 leaflets per leaf and flattened legumes. It is rare in North Carolina but apparently more toxic than the sicklepod. 


Gymnocladus dioicus (L.) K. Koch - Kentucky coffeetree.

This tree is cultivated in North Carolina. The leaves and fruits (seeds and pulp between seeds) are poisonous. The poisonous principle is cytisine. Clippings should not be available to livestock.


Fabaceae - Bean or Pea Family

Astragalus spp. - Locoweed, Rattle-vetch, Milkvetch

Description: Perennial herbs with erect or spreading stems. Leaves alternate, odd-pinnately compound, leaflets 7-15 pairs. Flowers in terminal or axillary, peduncled, ascending racemes; corolla white, pink-tinged or greenish white, long and narrow. Legume several- to many-seeded, turgid, ascending, and glabrous.

Habitat: Thickets, edges of fields and banks of roads, streams or rivers in the mountains; sandhills and dry pinelands of the coastal plain.

Distribution: (Map 26) Two species: A. canadensis L. in the mountains and upper piedmont; A. michauxii (Kuntze) Hermann in the coastal plain and lower piedmont.

Group number: 3. (Dangerous but uncommon)

Poisonous principle: Unknown; not selenium or "loco poisoning."

Parts of plant: Leafy tops, green or dry.

Periodicity: Spring, summer, and fall; eaten when other palatable forage is not available.

Symptoms: Dilation of pupils, salivation, staggering, respiratory difficulties, and paralysis; death from asphyxia.

Necropsy: No characteristic lesions.


Baptisia spp. - Wild indigo, False indigo

Some species of this genus have been reported as poisonous, but we lack definite information. Investigation by Duncan et al. (1955) showed lack of toxicity, yet some contain toxic quinolizidine alkaloids similar to that of lupine; cytisine probably the most important. Nausea, diarrhea, and other gastrointestinal clinical signs are reported in toxic cases.


Crotalaria spp. - Rattlebox, Rattleweed, Crotalaria

Description: (Fig. 24) Annual or perennial herbs with alternate, simple or compound leaves; stipules often conspicuous and fused to the stem for some distance. Flowers yellow, on long terminal or axillary racemes. Legumes inflated, subcylindric, many seeded.

Habitat: Fields, roadsides, open woods, and cultivated fields.

Distribution: (Map 27) Piedmont and coastal plain. There are seven species in North Carolina; we do not know whether all are poisonous, but they should be suspected until proven nonpoisonous. Three that definitely can cause trouble are C. sagittalis L., C. spectablilis Roth, and C. pallida var. obovata (Don) Polhill (C. mucronata Desv., C. striata DC.). None should be planted as a green manure crop.

Group number: 1. (Dangerous!)

Poisonous principle: Pyrrolizidine alkaloid monocrotaline, which is cumulative.

Parts of plant: Leaves, stems, roots, and seeds; dry or green. Only the seeds are considered poisonous in C. pallida (Fig. 25), but they are very dangerous because they are often found in feed. Two grams of seed fed daily will poison a 50-lb hog in about 7 days; a chicked will be killed in 1-2 months by 80 seeds; 9 lbs of dried leaves will kill a 300-lb steer in 4 days. The tops of C. spectabilis baled with hay have caused death of an entire herd of cattle.

Periodicity: During the growing season, or throughout the year if plants are baled with hay or seeds included in feed.

Animals poisoned: All livestock.

Symptoms: Lower blood pressure and heart beat, pulmonary hypertension, anorexia, rough haircoat, depression, bloody feces, gastric irritation, icterus, drooling saliva, nasal discharge, tenesmus with partial eversion of the rectum, enlarged liver and spleen, ataxia, and finally death.

Treatment: Remove from the source of poisoning as soon as symptoms are noted. Administer vitamin K1; affected animal seldom recovers.

Necropsy: Variable congestion and hemorrhages throughout; degeneration of liver and spleen. Hepatic cirrhosis (chronic exposure); bile duct proliferation, cytoplasmic vacuolation.


Cytisus scoparius (L.) Link - Scotch-broom, Scott's-broom

Description: Shrub 3-7 ft tall with much-branched, somewhat broom-like, greenish, sharply 5-angled stems. Leaves alternate, compound with three small leaflets, or the upper leaves with only one leaflet. Flowers golden yellow, one or two in the axils of the old leaves, or forming leafy racemes. Legumes small, flattened, and hairy.

Habitat: Escaped from cultivation into roadsides, old fields, waste places, and around buildings.

Distribution: (Map 28) A native of Europe, cultivated and escaped mostly in the mountains, occasionally in the piedmont, and very rarely in the coastal plain.

Group number: 4. (Of minor importance)

Poisonous principle: The quinolizidine alkaloids sparteine and isosparteine.

Parts of plant: Leaves, twigs, and seeds.

Animals poisoned: Cattle and horses.

Symptoms: Vomiting, excitement, muscular weakness, digestive disorders, convulsions, and death in coma. Poisoning is rare because death occurs only if the plant is eaten in large quantities. Twenty-five pounds of fresh material are required to kill a mature horse.

Treatment: Gastric and intestinal sedation, excess fluids.


Daubentonia punicea (Cav.) DC. (Sesbania punicea (Cav.) Benth.) - Rattlebush, Purple sesban

Description: (Fig. 26) Shrub or small tree to 12 ft tall. Leaves alternate, 4-8 in. long, even-pinnate with 12-40 leaflets, each with a minute and pointed tip and entire margin. Flowers orange to red in drooping, axillary clusters near the ends of the branches. Legumes about 3 in. long, 4-winged, with cross-partitions between the seeds, indehiscent.

Habitat: Frequently planted and escaped from cultivation in various habitats such as in old fields, pastures, around farm buildings, roadsides, stream banks, and edges of marshes.

Distribution: (Map 29) Eastern coastal plain.

Group number: 3. (Dangerous but uncommon)

Poisonous principle: A saponin, probably.

Parts of plant: Seeds.

Animals poisoned: Sheep, poultry, pigeons, and cattle.

Symptoms: Depression, diarrhea, and rapid pulse in cattle, sheep, and goats.

Treatment: Saline purgative, followed by stimulants and soft foods; pick up seed pods if fallen on ground near livestock.

Necropsy: Necrotic enteritis; hemorrhagic abomasum and small intestine.

Related plants: Erythrina herbacea L. - Cardinal-spear. This species is found rarely in southeastern North Carolina. It is a shrub with red flowers, and three delta-shaped leaflets per leaf. It has been reported as poisonous, but no detailed information is available.


Glottidium vesicarium (Jacq.) Mohr (Sesbania vesicaria (Jacq.) Ell. - Bladder-pod, Coffeeweed, Coffeebean, Bagpod-sesbania

Description: Robust annual to 10 ft tall, rather woody at the base, often broadly branched. Leaves alternate, 4-10 in. long, widely spaced on the stem, evenly pinnate-compound with 24-52 leaflets. Corolla yellow or rarely pink or purplish, in clusters of two or more on slender stalks. Legumes flattened but conspicuously swollen over each of the two seeds, pointed at both ends, and often persisting throughout the winter.

Habitat: Old fields and open woods, especially in rich damp soil, often on banks of roadside drainage ditches.

Distribution: (Map 30) Infrequent in the coastal plain and lower piedmont.

Group number: 3. (Dangerous but uncommon)

Poisonous principle: Saponin.

Parts of plant: Seeds or green leaves.

Animals poisoned: Sheep or cattle.

Symptoms: Depression and sluggishness as early symptoms; later developing shallow accelerated respiration, then increased depression, coma, and finally, death.

Related plants: 

Sesbania exaltata (Raf.) Cory - Hemp sesbania, Coffeeweed, Sesban.  Infrequent in the coastal plain and piedmont (Map 31). The seeds are reported to be poisonous.


Lupinus spp. - Lupines

Description: Perennial herbs with simple or palmately divided leaves. Flowers mostly erect in terminal racemes; white, blue, or purple. Legumes flattened.

Habitat: Sandy soil of pinelands and scrub oak woods, or open fields, and roadsides.

Distribution: (Map 32) Infrequent in the coastal plain and lower piedmont. There are three native species in the state: L. diffusus Nutt., L. perennis L., and L. villosus Willd. Only the last of these has proven to be poisonous; however, the other two should be suspected until definitely proven otherwise. The cultivated lupines are not poisonous.

Group number: 2. (Dangerous, but rarely eaten)

Poisonous principle: Various quinolizidine alkaloids.

Parts of plant: Leaves and particularly the seeds.

Animals poisoned: Sheep, cattle, and horses.

Symptoms: "Lupinosis" - nervousness, difficulty breathing, frothing at mouth, convulsions, and coma. Teratogenic effect (crooked calf disease) in cattle.


Medicago sativa L. - Alfalfa  

Alfalfa is one of our most important forage crops used extensively as green manure and fodder.  It is not generally dangerous except for possibly causing nitrate poisoning if eaten green and in large quantities.  However, when in flower it is visited by blister beetles (Epicauta spp.), which may live in great numbers in baled alfalfa hay.  These beetles feed on the pollen and nectar of alfalfa.  Ingestion (by horses in particular) of hay contaminated with these beetles has resulted in toxicosis.  Other animals poisoned are cattle, sheep, goats, rabbits, rats, and dogs.

Poisonous principle: Cantharidin, a potent vesicating agent. Lethal dose: 0.5 mg/kg.

Symptoms: Intense, direct irritation of the skin and mucous membrane of oral cavity, esophagus, stomach, and intestines. Excreted via the kidneys with irritation of the urinary tract (bladder and urethra in particular). Horses -- large dose: death from shock within hours of ingestion. Smaller doses: gastroenteritis, nephrosis, cystitis, and urethritis (anorexia, soft, and/or mucoid to bloody mucoid feces, intestinal atony, colic dysuria frequent, painful urination, or oliguria to anuria, and hematuria). Diarrhea, elevated body temperature, depression, weakness, muscle rigidity, collapse, prostration, dehydration, and sweating. Myocarditis may initiate cardiovascular signs: tachycardia, congested mucous membrane, and others. Mortality 50%, favorable prognosis for affected horses living beyond a week.

Treatment: No specific treatment. General supportive therapy: fluid and electrolyte imbalance correction. Broad spectrum antibiotics. Avoid potentially nephrotoxic antibiotics (aminoglycosides).


Melilotus spp. - Sweetclover

Description: Annual or biennial herbs with alternate, trifoliolate leaves, the leaflets with toothed margins. Flowers white or yellow, much like clover but in slender, elongated racemes. Legumes inflated, straight, with 1 or 2 seeds.

Habitat: Waste places, roadsides, fence rows, and cultivated fields.

Distribution: There are two species throughout the state: M. alba Med. - white sweetclover, and M. officinalis (L.) Pallas - yellow sweetclover. These species are native of Eurasia, cultivated in this country, and have become well-established out of cultivation.

Group number: 4. (Of minor importance)

Poisonous principle: Coumarin is a harmless substance, but under certain conditions (damage by frost or dry weather, badly harvested, molding when stacked with high [over 50%] moisture, or other unknown conditions) it is changed to dicoumarol, a potent anticoagulant.

Parts of plant: Leaves, flowers, and fruit. The toxicity is retained by the plant for extended periods.

Animals poisoned: Cattle and sheep; continued exposure to hay or silage containing these plants may cause extensive internal hemorrhages.

Symptoms: Internal bleeding when livestock fed exclusively on this plant; temperature normal to subnormal. Animal becomes weak, anemic, dyspneic, with hemoptysis, epistaxis, and bloody feces. Fetal death and abortion possible.

Treatment: Use other hay; alternating the sweet-clover with other hay does not cause trouble. Blood transfusions. Use vitamin K1 in 5% dextrose.

Necropsy: Gross hemorrhages throughout; nephritis.


Phaseolus lunatus L. - Lima bean, Butter bean  

The vines, fed to cattle, have caused nitrate poisoning.


Robinia pseudoacacia L. - Black locust

Description: (Fig. 27) Shrub or usually a tree, with alternate, odd pinnately divided leaves, the leaflets 7-25, entire and oval or elliptical. Stipular spines present. Flowers white in drooping racemes. Legumes flat.

Habitat: Dry woods, fields, roadsides, and fence rows.

Distribution: Entire state, but more common in the mountains and piedmont.

Group number: 1. (Dangerous!)

Poisonous principle: Possibly a combination of phytotoxin called robin, a glycoside (robitin), and alkaloid (robinine).

Parts of plant: Inner bark, rootsprouts, wilted leaves, or seeds.

Periodicity: Early and midsummer.

Animals poisoned: All livestock.

Symptoms: Latent period for several hours. Wide stance; anorexia; lassitude; rapid, loud, and irregular heartbeat; rapid and shallow breathing; dilation of pupils; abdominal pain; bloody diarrhea, nervousness. Death is uncommon.

Treatment: Call a veterinarian at once. Correct hypovolemia and electrolyte imbalance.

Necropsy: Irriation and edema of mucous membranes of digestive tract. Fluid gastrointestinal contents.

Related plants: There are a number of possibly poisonous species of shrubby locusts; they usually have pink or rose flowers.


Tephrosia virginiana (L.) Pers. - Rabbit's-pea, Goat's rue

Description: Herbaceous perennial with one to many erect, simple stems from a woody rootstock. Leaves alternate, odd pinnately divided with 9-27 leaflets. Flowers clustered in a dense, terminal raceme or panicle; yellow and pink or pale purple. Legume rounded in cross-section and hairy.

Habitat: Old fields, open woods, often in sandy soil.

Distribution: (Map 33) Throughout the state except along the coast.

Group number: 4. (Of minor importance). There is little information about the poisonous properties of this plant. There are reports of the wood and seeds being toxic; however, experiments by Duncan et al. (1955) did not indicate toxicity. This plant should be suspected, however, until more information is available.


Viscaceae - Mistletoe Family

Phoradendron leucarpum (Raf.) Reveal & M. Johnston (P. serotinum (Raf.) M. Johnston; P. flavescens (Pursh) Nutt.) - American mistletoe

Description: (Fig. 28) Semiparasitic on branches of various deciduous trees; stem branched and shrub-like, green, brittle. Leaves evergreen, opposite, thick, entire margined, oblong to obovate with rounded apex. Flowers inconspicuous. Fruit a white, globose berry in late fall and persisting into the winter.

Habitat: In many different deciduous trees. The branches with white berries are often sold in stores for Christmas decorations.

Distribution: Throughout.

Group number: 4. (Of minor importance)

Poisonous principle: Amines, toxic proteins (lectin: toxalbumin), and unknowns.

Parts of plant: Leaves, stems, and white berries.

Periodicity: All seasons.

Animals poisoned: Cattle and pets. Take care to keep this Christmas decoration away from house pets. Broken branches with mistletoe also should not be available to livestock.

Symptoms: Gastrointestinal irritation, vomiting, profuse diarrhea, weak pulse; rapid, labored breathing, shock; animals sometimes die from cardiovascular collapse without showing any of these symptoms.

Treatment: Symptomatic.


Celastraceae - Stafftree Family

Celastrus scandens L. - Climbing bittersweet

Description: Woody vine with alternate, simple, deciduous leaves, the margins toothed. Flowers in racemes. Fruit a 3-valved capsule, the fruit wall orange and the seeds scarlet, persisting after the leaves fall.

Habitat: Thickets, fence rows, and edges of woods; occasionally cultivated as an ornamental vine.

Distribution: (Map 34) Infrequent in the piedmont and mountains.

Group number: 4. (Of minor importance)

Poisonous principle: Unknown; possibly peptide and sequiterpene alkaloids, and glycosides.

Parts of plant: Fruits and leaves.

Animals poisoned: Horses.

Symptoms: Vomiting, violent diarrhea, loss of consciousness.

Related plants: Euonymus spp. (wahoo, strawberry bush) is considered poisonous in Europe and should be suspected until more information is available. Clippings from landscape shrubs should be kept away from animals. Celastrus orbiculatus Thunb. (Oriental bittersweet) has escaped cultivation and is becoming a troublesome weed in some areas.


Buxaceae - Boxwood Family

Buxus sempervirens L. - Box, Boxwood

Description: Evergreen shrub with dense, angular or winged twigs. Leaves small, opposite, simple, oval, dark green above and pale below, with a whitish midrib.

Habitat: Cultivated as a shrub or hedge. Livestock should be kept away from the hedge clippings.

Distribution: Throughout the state.

Group number: 5. (Dangerous, but generally unavailable)

Poisonous principle: The alkaloid buxine and others.

Parts of plant: Roots, leaves, bark, and twigs.

Animals poisoned: Cattle, sheep, horses, and swine. Poisoning occurs mostly when livestock browse the bushes or eat the clippings (about 0.15% animal weight).

Symptoms: Emetic and purgative, may cause nervous symptoms and convulsions; with large amounts the symptoms may be intense abdominal pains, convulsions, and death due to respiratory failure).

Treatment: Nerve sedatives, respiratory and heart stimulants. Symptomatic. Consideration given to maintain respiration and circulation and to control convulsions.

Necropsy: Those of severe gastroenteritis.


Euphorbiaceae - Spurge Family

Croton capitatus Michx. - Woolly croton, Hogwort

Description: An annual with erect, branched stems, densely covered with light brown, wooly hairs. Leaves alternate, petioled, simple, hairy, and with a smooth margin or nearly so. Flowers small, in short racemes, the sexes in separate flowers, the female flowers at the lower part of the raceme and lacking petals. Fruit a 3-lobed capsule, the seeds one in each lobe of the fruit.

Habitat: Dry, open areas, especially sandy and rocky soils.

Distribution: Southern United States, rarely in North Carolina.

Group number: 4. (Of minor importance)

Poisonous principle: Croton oil, a powerful cathartic.

Parts of plant: Green or dry leaves.

Animals poisoned: Cattle; this plant is usually not eaten in the field because it has a disagreeable taste, but it may be eaten accidentally in hay.

Symptoms: Diarrhea, colic, and nervousness. Death is rare.

Treatment: Bland oils and sedatives.


Euphorbia spp. - Spurge

Description: Herbaceous perennial or annual with milky juice. Leaves alternate, opposite, or whorled. Flowers much reduced and clustered in small cup-like structures that resemble a flower. Fruit a 3-lobed capsule on a long stalk protruding from the cup-like involucre. Many species are difficult for anyone but a specialist to identify. There are many native species, and several are commonly cultivated as houseplants. It is the houseplants, of course, that are most dangerous to pets.

Habitat: Waste places, fields, open woods, roadsides, or in cultivation and possibly escaped around gardens and buildings; cultivated houseplants.

Distribution: Throughout the state. Some of the species are: 

E. corollata L. - Flowering spurge

Native and common throughout the state. 


E. cyparissias L. - Cypress spurge.

Escaped from cultivation throughout the state; a common garden plant. 


E. lactea Haw. - Candelabra-cactus.



E. maculata L. - Eyebane, Milk purslane, Spotted spurge. Native and common in the state. 


E. marginata Pursh - Snow-on-the-mountain.

Cultivated throughout the state. 


E. milii Desm. - Crown-of-thorns.

Common houseplant. 


E. pulcherrima Willd. ex Klotz - Poinsettia.

Houseplant, a popular decorative plant at Christmas. 


E. tirucalli L. - Milkbush, Pencil-tree.


Group number: 4. (Of minor importance)

Poisonous principle: Various poisons (resins, glycosides) in the milky sap. Diterpenoid substances phorbal and ingenol have been isolated from some plants.

Parts of plant: Juice of leaves, stems, flowers, and fruit; green or dry.

Animals poisoned: Cattle, horses, dogs, cats, and birds.

Symptoms: Vomiting, abdominal pains, diarrhea; cattle feeding for some time on hay containing spurges become weak, collapse in a coma, and finally die. Conjunctivitis, keratitis, rarely dermatitis, stomatitis, and gastroenteritis in pets.

Treatment: Demulcents, intestinal astringents, gastric sedatives, nervous and circulatory stimulants.


Ricinus communis L. - Castorbean, Castor-oil-plant

Description: (Fig. 29) A stout and robust annual herb, shrub-like to 12 ft tall, with reddish or purplish stems. Leaves large, alternate, and blades deeply and palmately 6-11 lobed, nearly round in outline with the petiole near the middle. Flowers small, in panicles. Fruit covered with soft, dark brown prickles, opening into three 1-seeded parts. 

Habitat: Cultivated as an ornamental and occasionally escaped into various habitats.

Distribution: (Map 35) Piedmont and coastal plain.

Group number: 5. (Dangerous, but generally unavailable)

Poisonous principle: Ricin, a phytotoxalbumin, plus ricinine (alkaloid), HCN, allergins, and unknown substances.

Parts of plant: Leaves and seeds, though both are unpalatable; animals more likely poisoned from grain ration contaminated with castor beans.

Animals poisoned: Horses, cattle, sheep, pigs, poultry, and dogs.

Symptoms: Immediate or delayed: nausea, vomiting, signs of gastric pains, bloody diarrhea, depression, excessive thirst, trembling, sweating, dullness of vision, convulsions, coma, and death if eaten in large quantity (0.01% weight of horses; 0.2% weight of cattle, sheep, or hogs; 1.4% weight of poultry).

Treatment: Intestinal astringents and nerve sedatives; antihistamines.

Necropsy: Swelling and edema of the liver and kidneys; inflammation and punctiform hemorrhage of the mucosal lining of the digestive tract. Pulmonary edema.


Hippocastanaceae - Buckeye Family

Aesculus spp. - Buckeye, Horsechestnut

Description: Trees or shrubs. Leaves opposite, palmately divided with 5-9 leaflets, the margins toothed. Flowers in terminal panicles, appearing with the leaves. Fruit a 3-valved capsule with a thick leathery husk, and 1-6 dark brown shiny seeds with a large, pale scar.

Habitat: Creek or river banks, rich woods, edges of woods, and pastures.

Distribution: (Map 36) There are four species in the state. 

A. flava Soland. (A. octandra Marsh.) - Yellow buckeye.

 Large tree of the mountains; flowers yellow. 


A. sylvatica Bartr. - Painted buckeye.

Shrub of the piedmont; flowers typically yellow (Fig. 30). 


A. pavia L. - Red buckeye, Firecracker plant.

Shrub of the coastal plain; flowers red. 


A. hippocastanum L. - Horsechestnut.

Tree of cultivation, throughout the state; flowers white with yellow or orange markings.

Group number: 1. (Dangerous!)

Poisonous principle: The coumarin glycoside aesculin, saponins (aescin), possibly alkaloids, and neurotoxins.

Parts of plant: Young leaves in spring, and seeds in the fall.

Animals poisoned: Cattle, horses, and pigs.

Symptoms: Weakness, lack of coordination, twitching muscles, paralysis, inflammed mucuous membranes, dilated pupils, congestion of visible mucous membranes, severe gastroenteritis, vomiting, depression, stupor, and death from frequent ingestions.

Treatment: Purgatives; respiratory, heart, and nerve stimulants.


Aceraceae - Maple Family

Acer rubrum L. - Red maple

Description: Deciduous tree. Leaves opposite, simple, 3-5 palmately lobed with pointed lobes, V-shaped sinuses, and toothed margins; petiole long and reddish. Flowers small, red, appearing in early spring before the leaves. Fruit 2-winged, each half with a single, basal seed.

Habitat: Low and rich woods.

Distribution: Throughout.

Group number: 4. (Of minor importance)

Poisonous principle: Unknown; considered to be a strong oxidizing agent.

Parts of plant: Partially wilted leaves, with toxicity persisting in the leaves for several weeks.

Periodicity: Spring to fall.

Animals poisoned: Horses and ponies. One unconfirmed case in cattle.

Symptoms: Clinical signs are the direct results of methemoglobinemia. Heinz-body anemia, and intravascular hemolysis: weakness, polyuria, tachycardia, depression, icterus, cyanosis, and a brownish discoloration of blood and urine. Proteinuria and hemoglobinuria are consistent findings. Severe acute anemia results in the death of poisoned animals. Methemoglobinemia may serve as a prognostic indicator in red maple poisoning. Animals found to have large number of Heinz-bodies but low levels of methemoglobin warrant a fair prognosis, whereas those with a small number of Heinz-bodies but high levels of methemoglobin warrant a poor to grave prognosis.

Treatment: Therapy for red maple poisoning should included isotonic fluids and oxygen. Blood transfusions are indicated in horses with clinical signs of hypoxia. Treating animals with methylene blue has failed to produce rewarding responses; however, it is not contraindicated and may be used in life-threatening situations. Ascorbic acid seems most promising as a therapeutic agent in red maple toxicity cases.

Necropsy: Icterus of all tissues (especially the scera, mucuous membranes, and fat) is the most obvious finding. There is marked splenomegaly with hemosiderosis. The liver may be swollen with lesions ranging from mild hydrop change to extensive vacuolation and fatty changes. Kidneys are usually swollen and the capsule dark with a metallic sheen. Pigmentary tabular nephrosis and dark brown urine in the bladder are common. Lungs edematous and congested with thrombosis of large and small pulmonary arteries.


Meliaceae - Mahogany Family

Melia azederach L. - Chinaberry, China-ball tree

Description: (Fig. 31) Deciduous tree, 20-40 ft tall, with alternate, twice-pinnately divided leaves 1-3 ft long; leaflets 1-2 in. long and toothed on the margins. Flowers in large terminal panicles, lilac-colored. Fruit a small drupe, 1/2 in. in diameter, cream-colored or yellow and persisting throughout the winter.

Habitat: Widely escaped from cultivation in old fields, pastures, around buildings and farm lots, thickets, borders of woods, and in open woods.

Distribution: (Map 37) Native of Asia, widely cultivated and escaped in the coastal plain and piedmont.

Group number: 4. (Of minor importance)

Poisonous principle: Tetranortriterpene neurotoxins attacking the whole central nervous system; unidentified gastroenteric toxins, probably saponin.

Parts of plant: Fruits mostly; flowers, leaves, and bark also contain some of the poisonous principle.

Animals poisoned: Pigs and sheep are most susceptible (0.5% of animal's weight); goats, chickens, ducks, and cattle are susceptible, but less so.

Symptoms: Immediate or extended latent period. Nausea, vomiting, bloody diarrhea, excitement or depression, weak heart, partial to complete paralysis, difficult breathing. In severe cases, animals die from respiratory failure within 24 hours of eating the plant.

Treatment: Spontaneous recovery possible. Laxatives and gastrointestinal protectants suggested.

Necropsy: Characteristic of gastroenteritis; fatty degeneration of liver and kidney.


Araliaceae - Ginseng Family

Hedera helix L. - English Ivy, Ivy

Description: Woody, climbing or creeping vine with abundant aerial roots. Leaves evergreen, leathery, alternate, petioled, the blade palmately veined and variously shaped (in different horticultural varieties and juvenile versus mature leaves). Flowers small and greenish; fruit a small, 3- or 5-seeded black berry.

Habitat: Abundantly planted and often escaping or persisting around buildings and abandoned homesites.

Distribution: Cultivated throughout the entire state.

Group number: 5. (Dangerous, but generally unavailable)

Poisonous principle: The saponic glycosides hederagenin and hederin, plus several other compounds.

Parts of plant: Leaves and berries. Keep berries away from cats and dogs.

Animals poisoned: Cattle and horses browsing vines or clippings. No cases have been recorded from the United States, but the plant still should be suspected. 

Symptoms: Salivation, intense thirst, emesis, diarrhea.

Treatment: Symptomatic (gastroenteritis and fluid replacement).

Related plants: Aralia spinosa L. (Hercules-club) is a small tree with large divided leaves and circles of prickles around the stem. The fruits and leaves are considered potentially poisonous. Schefflera spp. (schefflera, starleaf, Australian umbrella tree) is an evergreen tree or shrub commonly grown as a houseplant. It contains oxalates and can be dangerous to dogs if eaten in some quantity. Symptoms are vomiting, ataxia, anorexia, and leucopenia.


Apiaceae - Parsley Family

Cicuta maculata L. - Spotted water-hemlock, Spotted cowbane, Wild-parsnip

Description: (Fig. 32) Perennial herb, 3-7 ft tall with clustered, short and thickened tuberous roots and glabrous, purple-striped or -mottled stems that are hollow except for partitions at the nodes. The rootstock exhibits several air cavities, separated by plate-like cross partitions of solid tissue, as seen in a cut lengthwise through the root at the base of the stem. Leaves alternate, petioles clasping the stem, 2-3 pinnately compound, to 2 ft long, the leaflets narrow and 1-4 in. long with serrate margins, the major veins ending at the notches between the teeth rather than in the tips of the teeth. Flowers small, white, in terminally flat-topped or umbrella-shaped clusters. Fruit small, dry, with corky ribs.

Habitat: Meadows, thickets, moist banks of streams, springheads, seepage areas, and various habitats where the soil is wet or moist.

Distribution: Fairly common throughout the state.

Group number: 1. (Dangerous!)

Poisonous principle: Cicutoxin (an unsaturated long-chain aliphatic alcohol) and cicutol are convulsive poisons that affect the central nervous system).

Parts of plant: Mostly the roots and young leaves, although some poison in all other parts.

Periodicity: Spring -- this is one of the earliest plants to appear in the spring, at a time when other forage is scarce. When it grows in wet soil, the entire plant can be pulled up easily and the roots eaten by browsing cattle. A very small amount of the root can be fatal to livestock. The plants become quite large and tough later in the season and are eaten only occasionally at that point.

Animals poisoned: Cattle mostly, but also horses, sheep, and swine.

Symptoms: The symptoms follow this sequence: frothing at mouth, uneasiness, jerking of muscles, stiffening of muscles, dilated pupils and rolling of eyes, periodic violent spasms, slow and shallow breathing, dizziness, and convulsions, followed by death. Abortions in cows have been attributed to eating the tops of the older plants.

Treatment: Practically hopeless in most cases. Avoid heavy grazing in wet areas early in the spring. Some aid may come from intestinal evacuation followed by intestinal astringents, and nerve and heart sedatives if the animal does not die within a short time. A veterinarian should be called as soon as possible.

Necropsy: Congestion and hemorrhage in the viscera, enteritis, and yellow discoloration of fat.


Conium maculatum L. - Poison-hemlock

Description: (Fig. 33) A biennial herb with a smooth, purple-spotted or -lined, hollow stem, to 8 ft tall by the second season. The taproot is solid and parsnip-like. Leaves large, 3-4 compound, the leaflets very small. Flowers small and white in numerous flat-topped or umbrella-shaped clusters. The fruit is similar to that of Cicuta.

Habitat: Wasteplaces, marshy areas, and various localities where the soil is fairly moist.

Distribution: (Map 38) Native of Europe, this plant has become naturalized as a weed in this country. Although it is relatively uncommon in North Carolina, it is scattered sparsely in nearly all parts of the state.

Group number: 2. (Dangerous, but rarely eaten)

Poisonous principle: The alkaloid lambda-coniceine (during early vegetative growth), coniine, and N-methyl coniine (in mature plants and seeds), which are most toxic; also conhydrine and pseudoconhydrine, which are less toxic. Coniine and coniceine are teratogenic.

Parts of plant: Leaves and unripe fruits.

Periodicity: Leaves most dangerous in the spring, and the fruits in the fall.

Animals poisoned: Cattle, swine, poultry, horses, goats, sheep. Animals develop a craving for the plant.

Symptoms: Variable, but usually involve gastrointestinal irritation, salivation, abdominal pain, nervousness, trembling, ataxia, bradycardia, dilated pupils, respiratory difficulties, paralysis, and coma. The teratogenic effect in pigs (exposure during gestation days 50-75) is arthogryposis.

Treatment: Use an emetic to empty stomach, then give purgative and stimulants, if indicated. Tanic acid neutralized the alkaloid.

Necropsy: Not characteristic. Animals may show widespread conjestion of lungs and liver.


Loganiaceae - Logania Family

Gelsemium sempervirens (L.) Ait. - Yellow jessamine, Carolina jessamine, False jessamine

Description: (Fig. 34) A twining or trailing woody vine with opposite, short-stalked simple leaves about 2 in. long and with a smooth margin; more or less evergreen. Flowers in short axillary clusters; corolla tubular, yellow, and fragrant, appearing in early spring. Fruit a flattened capsule, less than 1 in. long, and usually with a short beak. Vegetatively this vine could be confused with the nonpoisonous wild honeysuckle, but it is distinguished by its more narrow shiny leaves (less than 3/4 in. wide) and tapered leaf apex. Honeysuckle leaves are usually over 3/4 in. wide at maturity, dull, and not nearly as pointed at the apex. 

Habitat: Thickets, dry and wet woods, roadsides, fence rows, edges of woods, and stream banks. Trailing on the ground, or climbing in bushes, tall trees, or on fences.

Distribution: (Map 39) Coastal plain and lower piedmont.

Group number: 1. (Dangerous!)

Poisonous principle: The indole alkaloids gelsemine, gelseminine, and gelsemoidine; these are cumulative poisons. They are related to strychnine.

Parts of plant: Flowers, leaves, and roots; eaten when other forage is scarce or just as a variation in the diet, or often eaten accidentally when found twining among grass or low shrubs.

Animals poisoned: All livestock. One of the most dangerous in North Carolina. Young bees have been poisoned by nectar from the flowers.

Symptoms: Muscular weakness with prostration, slow breathing, subnormal temperature, dilation of pupils; later the animal develops convulsive movements of the head and legs, feeble pulse, and finally death due to respiratory failure. Abortion in cows has been caused by animals eating the leaves. Turkeys develop "limp neck" from eating the bark from stems or roots.

Treatment: No good treatment is known, but morphine is said to be a specific antidote. Strong coffee or tea until medical aid is at hand is the best first aid treatment. Control respiration and convulsions (relaxants and sedatives). Glycine treatment may be helpful in convulsive cases.


Apocynaceae - Dogbane Family

Apocynum spp. - Dogbane

Description: Perennial herb, 1-4 ft tall with milky juice. Leaves opposite, simple, entire, and glabrous or nearly so. Flowers in clusters on the main axis or on axillary branches; fruit of two long and slender follicles; seeds with a tuft of long silky hairs at the apex. The distinguishing characteristics of the two species, habitats, and distributions are described below. 

A. androsaemifolium L. - Spreading dogbane, Indian hemp.

Flowers declining or nodding, pink or pink-striped, corolla lobes reflexed; leaves reflexed or wide-spreading (Fig. 35). Found in dry thickets, borders of woods, uplands, waste places. Relatively uncommon in the mountains and upper piedmont (Map 40). 


A. cannabinum L. - Hemp dogbane, Indian hemp.

Flowers erect, greenish to milky white, corolla lobes ascending; leaves mostly ascending (Fig. 36). Grows in open ground, thickets, and borders of woods, mostly in the piedmont and infrequently in the mountains and coastal plain (Map 41).

Group number: 1. (Dangerous!)

Poisonous principle: Several resins and glycosides with cardioactivity.

Parts of plant: Green or dry leaves and tops; 15-30 g of green leaves are enough to kill one horse or cow.

Periodicity: Spring, summer, and fall. One of our most dangerous plants.

Animals poisoned: Cattle, horses, and sheep.

Symptoms: Chronic exposure with acute signs. Increase in temperature and pulse, sweating but cold extremeties, dilated pupils, discolored mouth and nostrils, refusal to eat and drink, and finally death.

Treatment: Tannic acid soon, then an emetic; demulcent; parenteral injection of fluids and electrolytes, especially sodium; atropine if indicated.

Necropsy: Unknown.


Nerium oleander L. - Oleander

Description: Woody shrub or small tree with narrow, evergreen and leathery leaves that are opposite or whorled, 3-10 in. long and with smooth margins. Flowers white, pink, red, or yellow. All parts with a gummy clear sap.

Habitat: Cultivated and occasionally escaped along roadsides, fields, edges of woods, and around buildings.

Distribution: Southeastern coastal plain.

Group number: 3. (Dangerous but uncommon)

Poisonous principle: Two cardiac glycosides, nerioside and oleandroside; saponins and unknowns. Potentially deadly at 0.005-0.015% animal weight; 15-20 g of leaves are lethal for horses and cattle.

Parts of plant: Leaves, green or dried; twigs.

Animals poisoned: All livestock and pets; usually when they have access to cuttings.

Symptoms: Depression, trembling, abdominal pain, vomiting, faster and irregular heart action, bloody diarrhea, respiratory paralysis, and death.

Treatment: Gastric lavage, short-acting barbituates. Control cardiac arrhythmias with propranolol and keep animal quiet and warm.

Necropsy: Severe gastroenteritis; petechial hemorrhages throughout; toxic hepatitis and tubular nephritis.


Asclepiadaceae - Milkweed Family

Asclepias spp. - Milkweeds

Description: (Fig. 37) Erect or spreading herbs with milky juice, perennial from a thick root or deep rhizome. Leaves opposite or whorled, or occasionally, alternate; margins entire. Flowers in terminal or lateral clusters, white to purple or orange. Fruit an elongated follicle containing many seeds bearing tufts of long silky hairs.

Habitat and Distribution: There are a number of species of milkweeds found in various habitats throughout the state. Some are reported as poisonous and others are only suspected. Until definite information is at hand, all species should be under question.

Group number: 2. (Dangerous, but rarely eaten)

Poisonous principle: Cardiac glycosides and resinoids.

Parts of plant: All parts, green or dried in hay. Toxicity decreases with maturity.

Animals poisoned: Sheep, cattle, horses, and poultry. Approximately 2% animal weight may be dangerous. Animals ordinarily do not eat these plants unless other forage is unavailable or the animal is confined to a milkweed-infested pasture.

Symptoms: Observed within few hours of ingestion of a toxic dose: dizziness, mydriasis, depression, loss of muscular control and staggering, violent spasms and convulsions, rapid and weak pulse, elevated temperature, difficulty in breathing, and respiratory paralysis.

Treatment: Fluids and nutrients; cathartic. For neurotoxic effects: sedative and laxatives. For cardiotoxic effects: atropine and/or diphenhydantoin.

Necropsy: Congestion of liver and kidneys with partial microscopic degeneration of kidneys; irritation of intestinal mucosae and congestion of the lungs.


Solanaceae - Nightshade Family

Datura stramonium L. - Jimsonweed, Thorn-apple, Stramonium

Description: (Fig. 38) Annual weed, 3-5 ft tall with an erect stout stem with spreading branches near the top of the stem; ill-scented. Leaves alternate, simple, 3-8 in. long, unevenly and sharply toothed, glabrous. Flowers erect, solitary in the leaf axils; corolla funnel-shaped, white or purplish. Fruit a hard, prickly, many-seeded capsule splitting into 4 valves.

Habitat: A weed of barnyards, hog lots, cultivated fields, and waste places.

Distribution: Scattered throughout the entire state.

Group number: 3. (Dangerous but uncommon)

Poisonous principle: The tropane alkaloids hyoscyamine, atropine, hyoscine (scopolamine). The first of these is usually responsible for stock poisoning.

Parts of plant: All parts, particularly the seeds; 0.06%-0.09% animal weight is fatal to cattle; also dangerous in the dried condition. Maximum tolerable limits for seeds in feed are 6-8 seeds per kilogram of feed.

Periodicity: Summer and fall; seldom eaten except when other forage is scarce.

Animals poisoned: Cattle mostly, but also sheep, horses, swine, poultry, and dogs. Seeds should not be given to caged birds.

Symptoms: Dilated pupils, vomiting, vertigo, dryness of mouth, rumen atony, rapid and weak pulse, partial blindness, excessive thirst, frequent urination; later, slow respiration, low temperature, rapid and weak pulse, retention or urine, and convulsions or coma preceding death (very rare).

Treatment: Tannin, then an emetic; physostigmine, pilocarpine, and arecoline are antidotes; caffeine may prevent respiratory failure; catheterization may be necessary.

Necropsy: No gross lesions. Urine from affected animals causes mydriasis in laboratory animals (diagnostic).


Lycium halimifolium Ill. - Matrimony-vine  

(Group number 3.) Native of Europe, cultivated and occasionally escaped; this can be poisonous to cattle and sheep.


Nicotiana spp. - Tobacco  

(Group number 2.) Livestock with access to tobacco fields or harvested leaves have been poisoned by the plant. Tobacco may also be dangerous to puppies and birds if they have access to cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco, or chewing tobacco.  Nicotine is a very toxic alkaloid.  The alkaloid anabasine is teratogenic in pigs (exposure days 10-35 of gestation): arthrogryposis; cleft palate reported in cattle.


Physalis spp. - Ground-cherry, Peruvian cherry

Description: (Fig. 39) Perennial herbs from a thick, fleshy rhizome. Stems erect and spreading, often much branched. Leaves alternate, simple, entire or wavy-toothed. Flowers axillary, nodding, mostly solitary; corolla short, funnel-shaped, or bell-shaped, yellowish with a dark center. Fruit a yellow globose berry nearly enclosed by the inflated calyx.

Habitat and Distribution: There are a number of species throughout the entire state, found growing in pastures, meadows, fields, woods, roadsides, and disturbed areas.

Group number: 2. (Dangerous, but rarely eaten)

Poisonous principle: Solanine glycoalkaloids.

Parts of plant: Tops and unripe fruit.

Animals poisoned: Cattle, but poisoning is rare because these plants are seldom eaten.

Symptoms, Treatment, Necropsy: See Solanum.


Solanum ptychanthum Dunal (S. americanum Mill.) and S. nigrum L. - American black nightshade, Common nightshade, European black nightshade

Description: (Fig. 40) Annual herbaceous weeds, 1-2 ft tall; dark green stems branched and spreading, pubescent, not spiny. Leaves alternate, pubescent below, entire to variously and deeply toothed. Fruit a black berry. Although these two are very similar, Solanum nigrum is a European species and is rare in North Carolina.

Habitat: Cultivated grounds and waste places.

Distribution: Scattered throughout the entire state.

Group number: 1. (Dangerous!)

Poisonous principle: Glycoalkaloids such as solanine.

Parts of plant: Leaves and especially the unripe (green) fruit.

Periodicity: Spring, summer, and fall.

Animals poisoned: Livestock and pets.

Symptoms: Gastrointestinal and nervous signs. Narcosis and paralysis, depression, salivation, dilated pupils, vomiting, diarrhea, stimulation of the nervous system followed by depression; the toxicity seems to vary with the soil type, climate, and the season of the year. Death from respiratory paralysis.

Treatment: Atropine and prompt-acting laxative; pilocarpine. Respiratory and skeletal muscle relaxants may be of value.

Necropsy: Severe inflammation ranging from hyperemia to hemorrhage and ulceration in intestine, mouth, and esophagus. No lesions in sudden death cases. Perirenal edema. Congested visceral organs. Pale kidney, proteinaceous cast and tubular necrosis; distended bladder; dark-colored bile.

Related plants: Other species of Solanum such as S. carolinense L. (horse-nettle, bull-nettle, wild tomato) and S. tuberosum L. (common potato) can cause poisoning if eaten in quantity by livestock. Solanum spp. may also be a source of nitrate poisoning. Tomato, Lycopersicon esculentum Mill., is closely related to Solanum. The leaves are poisonous to cattle and swine. The cultivated garden ornamentals belladonna (Atropa belladonna L.) and black henbane (Hyoscyamus niger L.) are extremely toxic. Such garden plants should not be available to livestock.


Verbenaceae - Verbena Family

Lantana spp. - Lantana  

Lantana, particularly L. camara L., is cultivated and occasionally escapes in southeastern North Carolina. Although usually not eaten, or not available to livestock, it is poisonous to cattle and sheep at about 1% of body weight. Livestock should not have access to living plants or clippings. The triterpenoids lantadene A and B cause cholistasis (hepatic pathology) and secondary photosensitization.


Lamiaceae - Mint Family

Glechoma hederacea L. - Ground-ivy, Gill-over-the-ground, Creeping charlie

Description: (Fig. 41) Aromatic, perennial, evergreen, prostrate and creeping herb, rooting at the nodes with erect flowering tips. Leaves simple, opposite, petiolate, broadly ovate to round with cordate base, the margin coarsely crenate. Flowers axillary on short stalks; petals tubular, 2-lipped, blue-violet, marked with purple spots. Fruit of 4 nutlets.

Habitat: Moist fields, roadsides, waste places, lawns, pastures.

Distribution: Throughout.

Group number: 4. (Of minor importance)

Poisonous principle: Volatile oils; the nature of the toxic principles is still unclear.

Parts of plant: All parts.

Periodicity: Entire year.

Animals poisoned: Horses.

Symptoms: Salivation, sweating, dyspnea, panting, dilated pupils, cyanosis, and possibly pulmonary edema.


Perilla frutescens (L.) Britt. - Perilla mint

Description: Annual herb with erect, freely-branched stems. Leaves simple, opposite, purple or green, ovate, coarsely toothed, with a pungent odor. Flowers small in axillary clusters or terminal racemes or panicles, white to lavender, tubular, with 5 irregular lobes. Fruit of 4 nutlets.

Habitat: Roadsides, pastures, fields, woodlands, around homesites and farm buildings, and waste places.

Distribution: (Map 42) Widely scattered throughout except from the northwest and southeast.

Group number: 2. (Dangerous, but rarely eaten)

Poisonous principle: Perilla ketone, egomaketone, isoegomaketone.

Animals poisoned: Cattle and horses.

Symptoms: Produces pulmonary edema, respiratory distress, difficult and open mouth breathing, lowered head, nasal discharge, elevated temperature, audible expiratory grunt, reluctance to move. Death on exertion.

Treatment: Ineffective once clinical signs are observed. Parenteral antihistamine steroid and antibiotics may be helpful early. Prevent exertion.

Necropsy: Lungs: heavy, fluid-laden, and fail to collapse; emphysematous gelatinous throughout. Edematous bronchial and mediastinal lymph nodes.


Oleaceae - Olive Family

Ligustrum spp. (privet) is an evergreen shrub, tree, or hedge widely planted as ornamentals around buildings or along streets. It has escaped cultivation to low, moist woods and waste places throughout North Carolina. Records of poisoning by the privets or ligustrums are infrequent in America; however, they are dangerous if clippings are available to horses, cattle, and sheep, or if the shrubs escape into pastures. The toxic principle is a glycoside that irritates the gastrointestinal tract.


Campanulaceae - Bluebell Family

Lobelia spp. - Lobelia

Description: Herbs with alternate leaves; flowers in terminal racemes; corolla tubular with 5 irregular lobes (2 forming the upper lip and 3 forming the lower lip); fruit a capsule. The species, with habitats and distributions, are described below.

L. cardinalis L. - Cardinal flower.

Erect perennial; flower scarlet. Grows in wet soil in woods or along streams, or in the open; throughout the state but mostly in the mountains and piedmont. 


L. inflata L. - Indian-tobacco, Wild-tobacco.

Annual with hairy stems; flowers pale blue; fruit and calyx become inflated at maturity (Fig. 42). Found in fields, roadsides, waste places, and open woods; mountains and piedmont (Map 43). 


L. puberula Michx. - Blue lobelia.

Erect perennial; flowers blue, 1/2 -1 in. long. Found in bogs, woodlands, meadows; throughout the state. 


L. siphilitica L. - Great lobelia, Blue cardinal flower.

Stout perennial; flowers blue, 1-1 1/4 in. long. Grows in rich soil, low ground, and along streams; mountains and very locally in parts of the piedmont (Map 44).

Group number: 2. (Dangerous, but rarely eaten)

Poisonous principle: Alkaloids: lobeline, lobelanine, and others; plus a volatile oil.

Parts of plant: Leaves, stems, and fruit.

Periodicity: Spring, summer, and fall, when other forage is scarce.

Animals poisoned: All livestock, chiefly ruminants.

Symptoms: Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, exhaustion, salivation, sluggishness or prostration, dilation of pupils, stupor, coma, convulsions, and death. The alkaloids resemble nicotine and coniine in their actions. These are used medicinally in the treatment of laryngitis and asthma; overdoses act as narcotic poisons.

Treatment: Stimulants and purgatives; tannic acid orally.

Necropsy: Ulcers of mouth and intestines; hemorrhage in intestine and kidney cortex; edema in conjunctiva and kidneys, and fatty changes in liver (yellow and friable); soft spleen.


Rubiaceae - Madder Family

Cephalanthus occidentalis L. - Buttonbush

Description: (Fig. 43) A deciduous shrub or small tree. Leaves opposite or whorled, somewhat thin, and with short petioles. Flowers in globose heads arranged in round-topped terminal clusters. Corolla white with a long tube and four lobes. Fruit in a globose head.

Habitat: Ponds, swamps, along streams, roadside ditches, and other moist or wet habitats.

Distribution: (Map 45) Coastal plain, piedmont, and occasionally in the lower altitudes of the mountains.

Group number: 2. (Dangerous, but rarely eaten)

Poisonous principle: Glycosides.

Parts of plant: Mostly the leaves.

Periodicity: Summer and fall.

Animals poisoned: Cattle and horses, but they seldom eat this plant. Grazed safely by some wildlife.

Symptoms: Vomiting, paralysis, spasms; destruction of red blood cells leads to hemoglobinuria.

Treatment: As in Amianthium.


Caprifoliaceae - Honeysuckle Family

Sambucus spp. - Elderberry

Description: Shrubs with soft wood and a large pith; long internodes. Leaves deciduous, opposite, pinnately divided with 5-11 leaflets which are toothed on the margin. Flowers white in large terminal clusters. Fruit berry-like and juicy. Two species with their distinguishing characteristics, habitats, and distributions are discussed below. 

S. canadensis L. - American Elderberry, American elder.

Flowers in flat-topped clusters; fruit purple-black; pith white (Fig. 44). Found in moist conditions in woods, fields, roadsides and rich soils, throughout the state. 


S. pubens Michx. - Red-berried elder.

Flowers in large ovoid-clusters; fruit mostly red; pith brown. Found in rich woods of the high mountains (Map 46).

Group number: 2. (Dangerous, but rarely eaten)

Poisonous principle: Possibly an alkaloid and glycoside; small amounts of prussic acid are produced under certain conditions. 

Parts of plant: Leaves, opening buds, and young shoots, bark, and roots; the cooked berries are commonly eaten and not poisonous; the fruit and flowers are often used in wine making and are not poisonous in this form.

Periodicity: Spring, summer, and fall.

Animals poisoned: Cattle, hogs, and sheep. Usually not eaten.

Symptoms: Gastrointestinal difficulties. Sudden death from high cyanide concentration (cherry red blood and mucous membranes).

Treatment: Sodium nitrite/sodium thiosulfate for cyanide poisoning.


Asteraceae - Composite or Aster Family

Baccharis spp. - Silverling

Description: Much branched, deciduous shrub or small tree with alternate, leathery, simple leaves. Flowers in small heads; the sexes on different plants. Mature fruits with silvery white tufts of hairs on the summit. The species, with habitats and distributions, are described below. 

B. angustifolia Michx. - False-willow, Silverling.

Leaves narrowly linear, entire or nearly so and resinous dotted. Found in salt marshes, swamps, and low hammocks; rare, in southeastern North Carolina (Map 47). 


B. glomerulifera Pers. - False-willow, Silverling.

Leaves elliptic to broadly inverted pear-shaped, usually with a few coarse teeth above the middle, not resinous dotted; flower heads in sessile or nearly sessile axillary clusters. Found in salt marshes and low ground near the coast; rare, in southeastern North Carolina. (Map 47). 


B. halimifolia L. - Eastern baccharis, Silverling, Groundsel-tree.

Leaves elliptic to broadly inverted pear-shaped, usually with a few coarse teeth above the middle, resinous dotted; flower heads in panicle-like clusters usually beyond the leaves (Fig. 45). Found in salt marshes along the coast, and inland usually along roads, or in open fields and woods and edges of woods; common in the coastal plain and rapidly becoming abundant in certain localities of the piedmont to the foothills of the mountains (Map 48).

Group number: 2-3. (Dangerous, but uncommon or rarely eaten)

Poisonous principle: Cardioactive glycoside.

Parts of plant: Leaves and flowers.

Periodicity: Spring, when young leaves and shoots are tender.

Animals poisoned: Cattle, ponies, poultry, and sheep. One of our most dangerous.

Symptoms: Prostration, trembling, gastrointestinal problems, convulsions. Death if eaten in large enough quantity.


Eupatorium rugosum Houtt. - White snakeroot, Fall poison

Description: (Fig. 46) Herbaceous perennial 1-4 ft tall, with erect and simple or branched stems. Leaves simple, opposite, 1 1/2 to 4 1/2 in. long, three-veined, coarsely toothed, glabrous, and stalked. Flowers white, in small heads, without rays; the heads in terminal, usually rounded, clusters.

Habitat: Woods, thickets, roadsides, clearings, and pastures.

Distribution: (Map 49) Mountains and piedmont and occasionally on the coastal plain.

Group number: 1. (Dangerous!)

Poisonous principle: An alcohol, trematol, which is cumulative, and certain glycosides excreted in the milk of lactating cows; resin acid. Daily ingestion is necessary for toxicity.

Parts of plant: All parts, green or dried. 

Periodicity: Late summer and fall when palatable forage is scarce.

Animals poisoned: Cattle, sheep, hogs, horses, mules, and goats. Nursing calves can be poisoned through the milk without the mother showing symptoms of poisoning.

Symptoms: Weakness and trembling increasing with exercise, quickened and labored respiration, and a pungent odor to the breath. Death is delayed in cattle, and may come within 2-3 days for horses. "Milk-sickness" was a major problem around the late 1800's and early 1900's.

Treatment: Nutrients and fluids. Some relief is obtained from heart and respiratory stimulants and cathartics. Lactating animals should be milked and the milk thrown away.

Necropsy: Congestion and fatty degeneration of the liver and kidney; subepicardial and myocardial hemorrhages and (in horses) gray streaks in mycocardium; evidence of ketosis.


Helenium spp. - Sneezeweed, Bitterweed

Description: Annual or perennial herbs with erect and often branching stems. Leaves alternate, simple, glandular dotted, sessile, and numerous. Flowers yellow, in heads, ray corollas present; the heads several to numerous in a leafy, rounded cluster at the top of the plant. Two species are common: 

H. amarum (Raf.) Rock (H. tenuifolium Nutt.) - Bitter sneezeweed, Bitterweed.

Leaves very narrow and numerous; weedy annual with stem not winged (Fig. 47). Weed of pastures, fields, roadsides, and waste places; coastal plain and piedmont and rarely in the mountains (Map 50). 


H. autumnale L. - Common sneezeweed, Bitterweed.

 Leaves 1/2 to 2 in. wide; stem narrowly winged as a result of the extension of the leaves down the stem; perennial (Fig. 48). Grows in moist low areas, usually in open habitats, throughout the state.

Group number: 1. (Dangerous!)

Poisonous principle: Sesquiterpene lactone (helenalin).

Parts of plant: Entire tops (leaves, stems, flowers, or fruits).

Periodicity: Summer and fall.

Animals poisoned: Sheep, cattle, and especially horses.

Symptoms: Salivation, accelerated pulse and high temperature, labored breathing, green nasal discharge, anorexia, rumen atony, vomiting, staggering, spasms, convulsions, and finally death; with small quantities eaten, the general health and milk production of cows diminishes; bitterweed often causes bitterness in milk.

Treatment: Respiratory stimulants, heart depressant, and excessive fluids; melted lard is helpful if given before spasms begin. Do not let animals overgraze, remove them from pasture. Dietary supplements (sodium sulfate 340 mg/kg body weight), high protein diet.

Necropsy: Gastrointestinal irritation, engorgement and microscopic damage of liver (friable and necrotic) and kidney; large necrotic areas in lungs, aspiration pneumonia.


Xanthium strumarium L. - Common cocklebur, Burweed

Description: (Fig. 49) Coarse annual weeds with alternate, simple leaves that are shallowly 3-5 lobed, long-petioled, and to 6 in. long. Flower heads in short axillary clusters. Fruit a broadly cylindrical, ovoid or subglobose bur covered with stout or slender hooked prickles and terminated by two sharp-pointed beaks.

Habitat: Fields, waste places, floodplains, and lake shores.

Distribution: Throughout the entire state.

Group number: 1. (Dangerous!)

Poisonous principle: Diterpenoid glycoside (carboxyatractyloside). Not cumulative; animals may develop a tolerance.

Parts of plant: Seeds and very young seedlings.

Periodicity: Spring (young plants) or fall (seeds).

Animals poisoned: Swine, cattle, and sheep.

Symptoms: Depression, anorexia, general weakness, rapid pulse and breathing, subnormal temperature, spasms, convulsions, and (in pigs) vomiting. Death can occur within 12-24 hours.

Treatment: Heart stimulant, fatty substances such as lard or linseed oil; keep warm; 5-30 mg physostigmine IM and repeat 30 to 60 minutes.

Necropsy: Irriation of stomach or abomasum, congestion of liver and slight nephrosis; toxic hepatitis; degeneration of kidney tubules and presence of tubular casts after 48 hours; cirrhosis of liver in pigs in chronic cases; hypoglycemia; hemorrhages in the heart.



Juncaginaceae - Arrow-grass Family

Triglochin striata R. & P. - Arrow-grass, Ridged pod-grass

Description: Perennial herb; glabrous, with tufted narrow leaves, 6-10 in. long; flowers inconspicuous on a stalk the height of the leaves. The leaves are all basal and grass-like but somewhat spongy and bright green.

Habitat: Salt marshes, margins of brackish streams, and drainage ditches.

Distribution: (Map 51) Uncommon; along the coast.

Group number: 3. (Dangerous but uncommon)

Poisonous principle: Hydrocyanic acid, not cumulative.

Parts of plant: Fresh or wilted leaves.

Periodicity: Spring and summer; most dangerous during drought.

Animals poisoned: Cattle, sheep, and goats.

Symptoms: Abnormal breathing, trembling and jerking of muscles; spasms or convulsions may develop and continue at short intervals until death due to respiratory failure (anoxia). The progression of symptoms is very rapid.

Treatment and Necropsy: See Sorghum.


Araceae - Arum Family

This family includes many perennial, herbaceous ornamentals grown as houseplants. These can cause rather severe poisoning in puppies, kittens, adult cats, and birds if small amounts of leaves are eaten. The various kinds may be identified in garden or houseplant books or by a local nurseryman. The commonly grown types are: 

Aglaonema spp. - Chinese evergreen

Alocasia spp. - elephant's ear

Anthurium spp. - anthurium, tailflower 

Caladium spp. - caladium

Dieffenbachia spp. - dumbcane (Fig. 50)

Monstera spp. - monstera, cut-leaf philodendron

Philodendron spp. - philodendron

Spathiphyllum spp. - spathe flower, peace-lily

Syngonium spp. - nephthytis

Zantedeschia aethiopica - calla lily

Group number: 5. (Not frequently eaten)

Poisonous principle: Calcium oxalate crystals (raphides: needle-shaped, slender crystals in bundles in the cells that cause a mechanical irritation to the mucous membranes) plus a histamine.

Symptoms: Mouth and throat irritation, head shaking, intense salivation, swelling of the mucous membranes of pharynx and around vocal folds and the tongue causing breathing difficulties.

Treatment: Use of antihistamines, cold packs to mouth, demulcents.


Poaceae - Grass Family

Festuca arundinacea Schreber - Tall fescue  

Tall fescue is a perennial commonly grown throughout North Carolina as lawn or turf grass or for hay. It is moderately palatable and grazed during the winter.

Poisonous principle: Several peptide ergot alkaloids produced by an endophytic fungus, Acremonium coenophialum.

Symptoms: Cattle and sheep: poor performance, weight loss or poor weight gain, dull rough coat, increased temperature and respiratory rate; increases susceptibility to heat stress; "fescue foot" in cattle. Horses: agalactia, prolonged gestation, abortions, retained placentas, thickened placentas, and rebreeding problems.

Treatment: Remove from grass. Treat locally in some cases (fescue foot). Thyrotropin-releasing hormone and reserpine have been beneficial in treating agalactia (horses). Remove pregnant mares from fescue pasture or hay during last 90 days of gestation.

Necropsy: Hard fat deposits in abdominal cavity. Thickened placenta; foot lesions similar to chronic ergotism.


Lolium temulentum L. - Poison ryegrass, Bearded or Poison Darnel

Description: Pale green, smooth, annual grass that is erect and often in clumps, reaching to 3 ft tall. Spikelets sessile, alternate, in a stiff, terminal, and erect spike. Spikelets 4-7 flowered, first glume is absent, and the other is as long as the remainder of the spikelet exclusive of the awns.

Habitat: Grain fields and waste places.

Distribution: (Map 52) Occasional in the piedmont. This grass is an introduction from Europe.

Group number: 3. (Dangerous, but uncommon)

Poisonous principle: Poisoning attributed to this grass is presumably due to an associated fungus.

Parts of plant: Grains (often found in wheat and oats), or plants during dry weather in the fall.

Animals poisoned: Cattle, sheep, horses.

Symptoms: "Rye-grass staggers" in sheep, stiffness of limbs, prostration in severe cases; trembling, vomiting, diarrhea.

Necropsy: Macroscopic pallor of skeletal muscles.


Sorghum halapense (L.) Pers. - Johnson grass

Description: (Fig. 51) Tall, coarse, herbaceous perennials from a scaly, thick rhizome; leaves usually less than 3/4 inch wide, with whitish midrib on the underside; entire plant reaching 4 1/2 ft tall. Panicle open; spikelets in pairs, 1 sessile (fertile) and 1 stalked (male).

Habitat: Open ground, roadsides, fields, and waste places. This grass is a native of Europe but has become well established as a weed in the state.

Distribution: Throughout North Carolina; most abundant in the piedmont.

Group number: 2. (Dangerous, but rarely eaten)

Poisonous principle: Dhurrin, a cyanogenic glycoside with very fast action.

Parts of plant: Leaves and stems, green or wilted. Concentrations necessary to cause harm vary with environmental conditions and age of plant parts.

Periodicity: Summer and fall; dangerous during dry weather or after frost, drought, or high temperature; second growth plants are particularly dangerous. Under normal conditions this grass furnishes good forage.

Animals poisoned: All livestock.

Symptoms: See Prunus serotina for discussion.

Treatment: Contact a veterinarian immediately.

Necropsy: Blood becomes cherry red and clots slowly.


Sorghum bicolor (L.) Moench. (Sorghum vulgare Pers.) - Sorghum, Sudan-grass, Kaffir-corn, Milo, Sargo, Broomcorn, Durra, Shattercane

Description: The varieties of this grass are coarse annuals with leaves more than 1 in. wide; large, terminal, dense panicle of pairs of small spikelets, one sessile and fertile and the other stalked and sterile but well developed, each with one floret.

Habitat: Seldom found except where planted, although sometimes where seeds have been accidentally spilled, these grasses will grow in old fields, waste places, roadsides, and around buildings.

Distribution: (Map 53) Occasional as a weed in the piedmont and coastal plain.

Group number: 2. (Dangerous, but rarely eaten)

For more information see Sorghum halepense.


Haemodoraceae - Bloodwort Family

Lachnanthes caroliniana (Lam.) Dandy (L. tinctoria (Walt.) Ell.) - Red-root, Paint-root, Dye-root

Description: Herbaceous perennial from a red, horizontal rootstock; stem to 3 ft tall; leaves linear, mostly basal; flowers in a dense panicle, woolly on the outside, yellow within, stamens 3.

Habitat: Moist fields and open pinelands, edges of marshes and swamps.

Distribution: (Map 54) Common in the coastal plain.

Group number: 4. (Of minor importance)

Parts of plant: Roots, leaves, stems, and flowers.

Animals poisoned: Hogs.

Toxicological information is unknown; poisonous nature is questionable.

Related plants: Lophiola aurea Ker-Gawl. (L. americana (Pursh) A. Wood) - Goldcrest. (Group 4). This plant is similar to the preceding, but has 6 stamens and the rootstock is not red. It is abundant locally in moist fields and open pinelands in the southeastern coastal plain and is possibly poisonous.


Liliaceae - Lily Family

Allium spp. - Onion, Garlic

The wild or cultivated onions and wild (field) garlic are common. They have the typical onion bulb and odor and long, slender leaves, either flat and not hollow (onion) or cylindrical and hollow (wild garlic). These cause red blood cell hemolysis and anemia in livestock and dogs.

Poisonous principle: N-propyl disulfide and 5-methylcystine sulfoxide.

Treatment: Remove from source and treat symptomatically.

Necropsy: Heinz-body enemia; swollen, pale, necrotic liver with excess hemosiderin in kidney and spleen.


Amianthium muscaetoxicum (Walt.) Gray - Crow-poison, Flypoison, Stagger-grass

Description: (Fig. 52) Herbaceous perennial to 3 ft tall with simple, erect, glabrous stems from a bulb. Leaves mostly basal, long and 1/2 to 1 in. wide. Flowers white, in a dense terminal raceme; sepals and petals without glands at the base. Fruit a capsule, 3-lobed and 3-horned at the apex; many seeded. The bracts at the base of the flower pedicels are short and broad.

Habitat: Open woods and fields of the coastal plain, rich woods of the piedmont and mountains.

Distribution: Entire state.

Group number: 1. (Dangerous!)

Poisonous principle: Alkaloids, which are cumulative.

Parts of plant: Fruit, leaves, and bulb. The highest concentration of the alkaloids is found in the bulb.

Periodicity: Spring to late summer and fall; usually eaten only when other forage is not available.

Animals poisoned: Cattle and sheep.

Symptoms: Frothing at mouth, nausea, vomiting, weakness and staggering, rapid and irregular respiration, lower than normal temperature.

Treatment: Nerve, heart, and respiratory stimulants.

Necropsy: Not specific.


Asparagus spp. - Asparagus, Asparagus fern

Grown as a houseplant, it may be dangerous to pets if the berries are available.


Convallaria majalis L. - Lily-of-the-valley

Description: (Fig. 53) Herbaceous perennial from a slender running rhizome; stem leafless, bearing a one-sided raceme of nodding, white, aromatic, bell-shaped flowers. Leaves 2 or 3, basal, to 1 ft. long. Fruit a red berry, but seldom formed.

Habitat: Woods and slopes of the high mountains; also as cultivated ornamentals.

Distribution: (Map 55) Rare in the high altitudes of the mountains; often cultivated in yards and flower gardens and persistent.

Group number: 3. (Dangerous but uncommon)

Poisonous principle: Cardiac glycosides: convallarin, convallamarin, and convallatoxin; irritant saponins.

Parts of plant: Leaves or flowers and rhizome.

Periodicity: Summer.

Animals poisoned: All livestock and pets (dogs.)

Symptoms: Digitalis-like cardiac effect plus a purgative action.

Treatment and Necropsy: See Nerium.


Hyacinthus occidentalis L. - Hyacinth

The bulbs of these ornamentals may be dangerous to pets if stored in an accessible location.  They contain a toxic alkaloid.


Melanthium spp. - Bunch-flowers

Description: Herbaceous perennials to 4 ft tall, from a thick rootstock; leaves mostly basal, the blades rather long and narrow. Flowers in terminal panicles, the stem pubescent; sepals and petals with 2 glands at the base on the upper side. Fruit 3-lobed and somewhat inflated, the seeds flat and winged.

Habitat: Moist open woods and fields, meadows, or low thickets.

Distribution: Two species, M. hybridum Walt. (found in the mountains and piedmont), and M. virginicum L. (found throughout the state).

Group number: 2. (Dangerous, but rarely eaten)

Poisonous principle: Unknown.

Parts of plant: Seeds and leaves.

Periodicity: Summer.

Animals poisoned: Sheep, cattle, and horses.

Symptoms: Rapid and weak heartbeat, labored breathing, muscular weakness, lack of appetite, and stupor.


Ornithogalum umbellatum L. - Star-of-Bethlehem

Description: Herbaceous perennial from a bulb; leaves basal, linear with a light green midrib; stem leafless, to 1 ft tall; flowers white and star-like, the 6 perianth parts with a green stripe on the back.

Habitat: Open fields, lawns, pastures, roadsides; sometimes cultivated.

Distribution: Infrequent throughout the state. A native of Europe.

Group number: 3. (Dangerous but uncommon)

Poisonous principle: Alkaloids and cardiac glycosides.

Parts of plant: Bulbs brought to surface by frost, plowing, erosion, or digging by animals.

Periodicity: Summer and fall.

Animals poisoned: All livestock.

Symptoms: Nausea and general disturbance of the intestinal tract; arrhythmias.

Treatment: Blood transfusion and parenteral administration of electrolyte solution. Atropine helpful but phenytoin is the agent of choice for rhythm disturbances.

Necropsy: Extensive gastroenteritis and hemorrhage in kidney; blood may be in intestines.

Related plants: Ornithogalum thyrsoides Jacq. - Wonder flower. Introduced as an ornamental; it should be kept from livestock.


Pleea tenuifolia Michx. - Rush-featherling

Description: Herbaceous perennial from a rhizome; plants rush-like with a few elongated leaves; flowers white, small, and few in a terminal raceme.

Habitat: Open fields and pinelands.

Distribution: (Map 56) Southeastern North Carolina; uncommon.

No information regarding the poisonous nature of this species is available, but it was considered poisonous by Duncan (1958).


Veratrum spp. - Hellebore, Indian-poke, False hellebore, Varebells

Description: (Fig. 54) Herbaceous perennials, 3-8 ft tall, from a thick vertical rootstock. Leaves 3-ranked, broad, oval, sheathing, with prominent veins, plaited. Flowers in a large terminal panicle, with perianth parts glandless, greenish yellow. Stem pubescent.

Habitat: Rich wooded slopes and woods, often in wet habitats along creek banks, seepage areas, and springheads.

Distribution: (Map 57) Fairly common in the mountains. Two species: V. viride Ait. and V. parviflorum Michx.

Group number: 2. (Dangerous, but rarely eaten)

Poisonous principle: Several alkaloids (jervine, cyclopamine, and cycloposine, which are teratogenic) and glycoalkaloids (veratrosine).

Parts of plant: All parts, but rhizomes less teratogenic.

Periodicity: Most toxic in spring.

Animals poisoned: Cattle, goats, and primarily sheep.

Symptoms: Salivation, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pains, muscular weakness, difficulty in walking, general paralysis, spasms; later followed by shallow breathing, slow pulse, low temperature, convulsions, and death from asphyxia. Death is rare because a large dose of the poison is required. Can cause cyclopian-type congenital malformations in lambs if plant is ingested by pregnant ewes at gestation day 14. Other malformations can occur when the animal is exposed to the plants later in gestation.

Treatment: Heart and respiratory stimulants, gastric and nervous sedatives; quiet should be enforced. Remove from source for rapid recovery. Epinephrine is contraindicated.

Necropsy: Acute toxicity yields no lesions. Gross developmental anomalies.


Zigadenus spp. - Black snakeroot, Crow-poison, Death camas, Pink deathcamas

Description: Perennial herbs from a thick, horizontal rootstock, to 3 ft tall; stems smooth, leafy, but leaves mostly basal, blades linear; flowers in terminal racemes, or panicles, white or cream, the perianth parts with one or two glands at the base on upper side.

Habitat: Open boggy areas on the coastal plain; slopes and cliffs in the mountains.

Distribution: There are four species, all rather similar. Three species with panicles are: Z. glaberrimus Michx., which is found commonly in the coastal plain and Z. glaucus Nutt. and Z. leimanthoides Gray, which are restricted to the mountains and found infrequently (Map 58). These last two species are questionably poisonous. Zigadenus densus (Desr.) Fern. (Amianthium angustifolium (Michx.) Gray) differs from the preceding species in that its flowers are in a raceme. It is found on the coastal plain (Map 59) in moist open woods and fields.

Group number: 2. (Dangerous, but rarely eaten)

Poisonous principle: Various alkaloids of the veratrum group.

Parts of plant: Leaves, stems, flowers, seeds; fresh or dried. Seeds are most toxic. Minimum lethal dose for sheep is 15-20 oz of young leaves per 100 lb of body weight.

Periodicity: Summer.

Animals poisoned: Sheep, cattle, and horses.

Symptoms: There is a several-hour latent period after ingestion. Symptoms include salivation, nausea, vomiting, lowered temperature, staggering or complete prostration, difficult breathing, sometimes coma of various lengths, followed by death due to anoxic heart failure.

Treatment: Keep animal quiet.

Necropsy: No characteristic lesions.


Amaryllidaceae - Amaryllis Family

Amaryllis and Narcissus (jonquil, daffodil)

Bulbs contain toxic alkaloids and are dangerous to dogs.  Death occurs from respiratory failure.  

Hymenocallis crassifolia Herb. - Spider-lily

Description: Herbaceous perennial from a large bulb; leaves basal; flowers 3 or fewer in an umbel; white with 6 petal-like segments and 6 stamens fastened to the perianth segments and connected by a thin white webbing; ovary at the base of a short periath tube; fruit a 1-3 seeded capsule.

Habitat: Shallow streams, drainage ditches, and marshes.

Distribution: (Map 60) Fairly common in the southeastern coastal plain. 

Group number: 2. (Dangerous, but rarely eaten)

Poisonous principle: Alkaloid. 

Toxicological information is unknown.


Zephyranthes atamasco (L.) Herb. - Atamasco lily

Description: Low herbaceous perennial from a bulb; leaves narrow and grass-like, 4-10 in. long; flowers single, erect on slender stalks, white 3-4 in. long, funnel-shaped.

Habitat: Rich woods, flat woods, and low grassy fields.

Distribution: (Map 61) Coastal plain and lower piedmont.

Group number: 4. (Of minor importance)

Poisonous principle: Alkaloids.

Parts of plant: Leaves and mostly the bulbs (0.5-0.75% animal's weight).

Periodicity: Spring and summer.

Animals poisoned: Cattle, chickens, and horses.

Symptoms: Staggering within 48 hours after eating; bloody diarrhea.

Necropsy: Unknown.


Iridaceae - Iris Family

Iris spp. - Iris, Blue flags

The irises, cultivated throughout the state and native in the coastal plain, contain irisin, an acrid resinous substance that can cause poisoning if eaten in quanitity. These plants, however, are rarely eaten by livestock.  

Colchicum autumnale L. - Autumn crocus

The corms and seeds can be dangerous to pets. They contain the very toxic alkaloid colchicine, a mitotic poison. Cumulative and excreted in the milk. Toxicity is characterized by difficulty in swallowing, abdominal pain, profuse vomiting, and bloody diarrhea, shock, and collapse. Death from respiratory failure.


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