Many plants use highly poisonous toxins for self-defense and others are even carnivorous (meat eating). The extreme diversity of plant life on earth gives us a wide range of interesting – and deadly – plants. Since some plants are more deadly than others, we’re going to explore the top ten. Pay close attention though, some of these plants could be taking up residence in your backyard.
10. Doll’s eyes
Also known as White Baneberry, Doll’s eyes are a flowering plant and are most prevalent in Northern and Eastern North America. The name originates from the fruit of the plant, which is a tiny white berry with a contrasting black dot which looks very similar to an eye.
Although the whole plant is toxic when ingested by humans, the fruit or ‘the eye’ is where most of the toxins are concentrated. Because they look like little candies and are sweet tasting, the plant is notorious for claiming unsuspecting children’s lives. The toxin produced by the plant is carcinogenic and has an immediate, sedative effect on human cardiac muscles and will cause a quick death if consumed.
9. Angel Trumpet
The droopy, beautiful angel trumpet which also goes by the name Brugmansia is native to regions of South America. It contains a cornucopia of powerful toxins. Some of these include atropine, hyoscyamine, and scopolamine.
Documented in the 2007 VBS.tv documentary “Colombian Devil’s Breath,” nefarious individuals in Colombia will extract scopolamine from the plant and use it as a potent drug which leaves victims completely unaware of what they are doing but entirely conscious. It essentially turns them into living zombies. Scopolamine can be easily absorbed through the skin and mucous membranes, allowing them to simply blow the powder in a victim’s face. The documentary is full of horror stories by individuals who have been attacked in this way. One such account includes the story of a man moving all of his possessions out of his house (and into the hands of thieves) without remembering any of it.
8. Giant Pitcher Plant
While not deadly to humans, the giant pitcher plant is incredibly deadly to bugs, spiders, flies and even mice and rats. That’s right, the giant pitcher plant, also known as Nepenthes attenboroughii, has been known to feast on small rodents who unwittingly slip into the incredibly slick pitcher. Discovered 5000 feet above sea level on Mount Victoria in the Philippines, the largest known carnivorous plant secretes a nectar-like substance to lure unsuspecting prey into a pool of enzymes and acid. A series of sticky, downward ribs makes it nearly impossible for trapped prey to escape. Because pitcher plants tend to grow in nitrogen-deficient environments, they get their nutrients from decaying victims instead of the soil.
7. Common Bladderwort
The common bladderwort, also known as Utricularia macrorhiza, is an aquatic meat eater which relies on submerged bladders to capture its prey which includes tadpoles and small crustaceans. An unsuspecting tadpole or minnow will brush against an external bristle which triggers the bladders to spring open and capture it. After caught by the plant, its victim will die of suffocation or starvation and then decays into a goo which is sucked up by cells on the inner walls of the bladder.
6. White Snakeroot
The plant that killed a president’s mother. White snake root, also known as Eupatorium rugosum, is a highly poisonous plant native to North America. It contains an extremely high level of the toxin tremetol, which is not known for killing humans directly, but indirectly. After blooming, small fluffy white seeds are easily blown away with the wind. When the plant is eaten by livestock, the toxin is absorbed into their milk and meat. When humans eat the beef or drink the milk from these tainted cows, the toxin enters the body and causes something called milk sickness, which is highly fatal. Thousands of European settlers died from milk sickness in America at the beginning of the 19th century. Milk Sickness also claimed the life of Nancy Hanks who was Abraham Lincoln’s mother.
5. Bushman’s poison
The accurately named ‘Bushman’s poison’ is famous for its use by the Khoisan of South Africa to poison the tips of their arrows, blowgun darts and spears. Though the plant produces pleasantly smelling flowers and a sweet tasting plum-like berry, the sap can be fatal. The leaves, however, have medicinal properties and are used as such by the tribe. Bushman’s poison also goes by the name “wintersweet”.
4 – Strychnine tree
Queen Cleopatra famously forced her servants to commit suicide by eating the strychnine tree’s seeds, which contain lethal levels of strychnine. She did this in order to determine if it would be the best means for her own suicide. After seeing the agony that her servants endured, she changed her mind. The Strychnine tree is a medium sized tree which is native to India and South East Asia. The small seeds inside the trees’ green to orange fruit contain strychnine alkaloids. 30mg of these alkaloids is enough to be fatal to an adult. It is also an extremely painful death thanks to violent convulsions due to stimulation of sensory ganglia in the spine.
Wolfsbane, also known as women’s bane or devils helmet, belongs to the buttercup family. It’s a perennial plant and is native to mountainous regions in the northern hemisphere. Wolfsbane contains large quantities of a poison called pseudaconitine, which was used by the Ainu people of Japan as poison for hunting. When ingested, an intense burning feeling in the limbs and abdomen is immediately felt. In large doses, death can occur in as little as 2-6 hours. Only 20ml of pseudaconitine is needed to kill an adult human. Its name comes the mythology that it was thought to keep away werewolves, hence ‘wolfsbane’.
2 – Castor plant
Ever had Castor oil forced down your throat as a child? I bet you never realized that it came from one of the most poisonous plants in the world.
Castor plants are native to the Mediterranean, eastern Africa and India, but are widely grown as an ornamental plant around the world. The deadly toxin ‘ricin’ is found throughout the plant, but is highly concentrated in the seeds (or beans) of which castor oil is made. A single seed is enough to kill an adult in 2 days, which makes for a long, agonizing death. The first symptoms happen within just a few hours and include a burning sensation in the throat & mouth, abdominal pain, bloody stool, and vomiting. The poison has no known anti-toxin or cure. The final cause of death will be dehydration. Out of all the animals, humans are the most sensitive to castor seeds It takes just 1-3 to kill an adult human, 10-12 to kill a dog and 80 to kill a duck. The castor plant is the current title holder in Guinness World Records for most poisonous plant.
1. Western Water Hemlock
The Water Hemlock, aka Cicuta douglasii, has been deemed by the USDA as “the most violently toxic plant that grows in North America”. The water hemlock contains the toxin cicutoxin, which if ingested, wreaks havoc on the central nervous system, causing grand mal seizures – which include loss of consciousness and violent muscle contractions – and eventual death. Water hemlock is different from poison hemlock, Socrates’ notorious killer, in that it contains coniine alkaloids that kill by paralyzing a victim’s respiratory system. Both are members of the carrot family and are common throughout the Northern hemisphere.
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