The weather in Illinois is getting cooler (much to my personal delight), and while some of the familiar summer blooms are fading away, mother nature has a whole new act for autumn. Some of the more classic toxic plants are in their prime this time of year.
If someone has swallowed any of following four plants, call IPC right away!
Monkshood (Aconitum spp)
Monkshood photo credit: Chicago Botanic Garden
Monkshood is also known as Wolfsbane, and it contains the toxin aconite. Aconite as a method of poison is well represented throughout history, Greek mythology, in literature and even popular culture. All parts of this pretty plant are toxic, especially the roots and seeds. Symptoms start with nausea and vomiting and if enough is swallowed can progress to muscle weakness/paralysis and effects on the heart.
Autumn Crocus (Colchicum autumnale)
Autumn Crocus photo credit: Chicago Botanic Garden
The toxic element of this plant actually interferes with cell division in the body when swallowed. Injury to fast dividing cells in the GI tract occurs first and initial symptoms include nausea and vomiting. If the dose is high enough eventually all organ systems are affected. The drug colchicine comes from this plant (colchicine is a rather old timey gout medication that is not commonly used anymore, partially because it is so toxic in the wrong amount).
Jimson Weed (Datura stramonium)
Jimson Weed photo credit: Wikipedia
Eating this plant or its seeds will make you “red as a beet, hot as a hare, blind as a bat, dry as a bone and mad as a hatter”. This collection of symptoms—flushed skin, fever, dry mouth, hallucinations—is called anticholinergic syndrome.
Jimson weed is a contraction of “Jamestown weed”– so named for the intoxication of British soldiers who were sent to Jamestown in the year 1676 to stop a rebellion in the early American colonies. The soldiers were delirious for over a week after eating a salad made with these leaves.
Castor Beans (Ricinus communis)
Castor Beans photo credit: Wikipedia
Castor beans contain Ricin, a toxin that affects the body’s ability to make necessary proteins. Ricin toxicity causes a similar presentation of symptoms as the Autumn Crocus above—first GI symptoms such as nausea and vomiting but eventually it affects all the organs in the body. The very hard beans need to be chewed to release the toxin, but it’s best to leave this plant alone altogether!
Skin, Mouth and Stomach Irritants:
Sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale)
Sneezeweed photo credit: Chicago Botanic Garden
This plant is very irritating if it gets on the skin or in the mouth. Despite its name, the main concern with this one is not that it makes you sneeze!
Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium dubium)
Joe Pye Weed photo credit: Chicago Botanic Garden
A common name for this plant is “fall poison” so it is officially my favorite plant on the list. It can cause severe vomiting if ingested, and if a really large amount is consumed—weakness and even liver damage is possible.
Chrysanthemums photo credit: Chicago Botanic Garden
Chrysanthemums can cause dermatitis with skin contact and minor GI upset if swallowed.
Fall Blooming Anemones (Anemone spp)
Fall Blooming Anemones photo credit: Chicago Botanic Garden
These beauties can cause pretty significant skin irritation and stomach upset if swallowed.
As you can see, many fall plants can be really dangerous, but get as close to these as you want.
Butterfly Bush (Buddleja)
Butterfly Bush photo credit: Chicago Botanic Garden
Hosta spp photo credit: Chicago Botanic Garden
Goldenrod (Solidago spp)
Goldenrod photo credit: Chicago Botanic Garden