White snake root, also known as White Sanicle or Tall Boneset, is a highly poisonous plant, native to North America. Their flowers are white and, after blooming, small fluffy seeds blow away with the wind. This plant has a high % of the toxin tremetol, which is not known for killing humans directly, but indirectly. When the plant is eaten by cattle, the toxin is absorbed into their milk and meat. When humans then, in turn, eat the beef or drink the milk, the toxin enters the body and causes something called milk sickness, which is highly fatal. Thousands of ignorant European settlers died from milk sickness in America in the early 19th century. It is also believed that Abraham Lincoln’s mother, Nancy Hanks, died from milk sickness.
Doll’s eye, also known as White Baneberry, is a flowering plant native to Eastern and Northern North America. The Doll’s eyes comes from the striking fruit of the plant, which is a 1cm in diameter white berry with a black stigma scar, which looks very eye like. Although the whole plant has been declared toxic for human consumption, the most poisonous part is the concentrated toxins in the fruit, which have sadly claimed a number of children’s lives, as they also have a sweet taste. The berries contain a carcinogenic toxin, which has an almost immediate, sedative effect on human cardiac muscles and can easily cause a quick death.
Angel’s trumpets are flowering plants, native to the tropical regions of South America, but found around the world. The name Angel’s trumpet comes from the pendulous trumpet shaped flowers, covered in fine hairs, that hang from the tree. Flowers come in a variety of sizes (14-50cm) and in a variety of colors, including white, yellow, orange and pink. All parts of the plant contain toxins, such as tropane alkaloids scopolamine and atropine. The plant is sometimes turned into a tea and ingested as a hallucinogenic, recreational drug. As levels of toxicity varies prom plant to plant, and part to part, it is almost impossible to know how much toxins you have ingested. As a result of this, many users have overdosed and died from it.
The Strychnine tree, better known as poison nut or Quaker Button, is a medium sized tree, native to India and South East Asia. The small seeds inside the trees’ green to orange fruit, is highly toxic, being filled with poisonous alkaloids’ Strychnine and Brucine. 30 mg of these toxins are enough to be fatal to an adult, and will lead to a painful death from violent convulsions due to simultaneous stimulation of sensory ganglia in the spine.
The English Yew is native to Europe, Northern Africa and South West Asia. It is a small to medium tree that has seeds enclosed in a soft, red, berry like armor. The berry armor is the only part of the fruit that is not poisonous and this allows birds to eat the fruit and spread the seeds without ill effect. It takes a dose of about 50g to be fatal to a human. Symptoms include difficulty breathing, muscle tremors, convulsion, collapse and finally cardiac arrest. In cases of severe poisoning, death can set in so fast that the other symptoms are missed.
Water hemlock, or poison parsnip, is a group of highly poisonous plants that is native to the temperate regions of the northern hemisphere. The plants all have very distinctive small white or green flowers, arranged in an umbrella shape. Water hemlock is considered to be North America’s most poisonous plant as it is incredibly poisonous to humans. The plants contain a toxin named cicutoxin which causes seizures. This poison is found in all parts of the plant but is most concentrated in the roots, which is most potent in the spring. Besides the almost immediate seizures, other symptoms include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pains, tremors and confusion. Death is usually caused by respiratory failure or ventricular fibrillation and can occur just a few hours after ingestion.
Wolfsbane, also known as leopard’s bane, woman’s bane or devils helmet, is a plant belonging to the buttercup family. These perennial plants are native to mountainous regions of the northern hemisphere. The plant contains very large quantities of a poison called alkaloid pseudaconitine, which used to be used by the Ainu people of Japan as poison for hunting, on the tips of their arrow heads. In cases of ingestion, symptoms, which include burning in the limbs and abdomen, sets in immediately. In cases of large doses, death can occur within 2-6 hours and 20ml is enough to kill an adult human.
Interestingly, Wolfsbane is also mentioned in mythology and werewolf lore as being able to either repel the werewolves/lycanthropes, or to induce the wolf state regardless of the moon phase. Hence the name.
The Rosary Pea, also known as Crab’s eye or Jumbie bead, is a slender perennial climber that twines around trees, shrubs and hedges. The plant is native to Indonesia, but grows in most parts of the world. It is best known for its seeds, which are used as beads, and have a bright red to arrange color with a single black spot (not unlike an inverted black widow). The poison contained in the plant (abrin) is very similar to the poison ricin, found in some other poisonous plants. There is one main difference between these poisons, and that is that abrin is about 75 times stronger than ricin. This concludes that the lethal dose is much less, and in some cases as little as 3 micrograms can kill an adult human. Using seeds as beads even poses a huge threat, as people have been known to die, just from pricking their fingers on the drill bits used to drill the tiny holes in the seeds.
Belladonna, also known as Devils berries, death cherries or deadly nightshade, is native to Europe, North Africa and Western Asia. It is also one of the world’s most poisonous plants as it contains Tropane alkaloids, some of which cause delirium and hallucinations. Other symptoms of Belladonna poisoning include loss of voice, dry mouth, headaches, breathing difficulty and convulsions. The whole plant is poisonous, but berries usually play the greatest risk, as they are sweet and tend to attract children. 10 – 20 berries can kill an adult, but it only takes 1 leaf (in which the poisons are much more concentrated) to kill a full grown man.
Strangely, our very “intelligent” ancestors of the Elizabethan era (1500s) used Belladonna as part of their daily cosmetic routine. They used drops made from the plant as eye drops, to dilate their pupils, which was considered attractive and gave the user a dreamy look. Not being very knowledgeable at the time, the women also drank cyanide, or “bled” themselves to obtain a pale, translucent skin color, in addition to painting their faces white with a lead based paint called cerise.
Thinking back to the time your mother forced Castor oil down your throat, I bet you would never have guessed that it came from the most poisonous plant in the world (even if it did taste like it).
Castor plants are indigenous to the Mediterranean basin, eastern Africa and India, but are widely grown as an ornamental plant. A toxin called ricin is found throughout the plant, but is concentrated in the seeds/beans (which castor oil is made from). One raw seed is enough to kill a human in 2 days, which makes for a long, agonizing and unstoppable death. The first symptoms will be experienced within a few hours and will include a burning sensation in the throat & mouth, abdominal pain, bloody diarrhea and vomiting. The process is unstoppable and the final cause of death will be dehydration.
Strangely, humans are the most sensitive to these seeds, as it takes 1-4 to kill a full grown human, 11 to kill a dog and a whopping 80 seeds to kill a duck. The castor plant currently holds the Guinness World Record for most poisonous plant.