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