Many plants contain alkaloids or other toxins as a defense mechanism. After all, they are plants and lack any other form of defense. Through thousands of years of trial and error, humans and animals have come to realize which plants are safe, which plants can be fatally poisonous, and which ones fall somewhere in between. However, you might be surprised to know just how many beautiful and unimposing plants found in your neighborhood park or yard are dangerously poisonous.
Socrates may have famously drunk the juice from the poison hemlock, but the lesser known water hemlock is equally fatal. In fact, according to the USDA, the water hemlock is one of the most poisonous plants in North America. The stems and flowers of the water hemlock are safe to ingest, but the plant’s stalky roots are full of lethal sap that contains convulsant cicutoxin. If ingested, people can expect to suffer from violent seizures, which are quickly followed by death.
The scientific name of the English yew is taxus baccata, and with “taxus” being Latin for toxin, it is not surprising that the English yew is one of the deadliest trees in the world. The odd and primitive evergreen conifer is commonly found in forests throughout Europe. Unfortunately, every part of the tree, except for its berries, is lethally poisonous. Small amounts of English yew can cause convulsions and paralysis, and death typically follows. Throughout history, the tree was regularly used in small amounts for medicinal purposes, but it has been deemed far too dangerous for use in modern medicine.
Its blossoms may be beautiful, but the oleander is widely known as one of the most poisonous plants in the world. Only one leaf can be deadly to an adult, and many fatalities have been caused by having minimal exposure to the plant’s blooms, twigs, and berries. Oleanders contain a number of toxins, including saponin, oleandoside, cardiac glycoside, and nerioside. Once oleander is ingested, it simultaneously attacks the cardiovascular and nervous systems as well as the digestive tract. The popular plant is native to parts of Asia and the Mediterranean, but it is now cultivated in countries around the world.