The Venus flytrap earned a reputation years ago for being one of the deadliest plants around. The legend began in the 1800s with a story that arose out of Madagascar about a woman being eaten by a man-eating tree. The story goes that, when the tree sensed this woman’s presence, it released its tentacles and drew her in. Of course, a century later, the tale was debunked and a new version was born based on both science and what we know now.
Conium, also known as Hemlock, was known for its uses in ancient Greece when it came to executions. Coniine, which is the plant’s deadliest toxin, is lethal even in small amounts. Once ingested, the toxin causes muscular paralysis and then affects the respiratory system, which results in death. The plant’s most famous victim was the great philosopher, Socrates. The name “hemlock” can refer to several different trees and plants that have different characteristics so the scientific name is often used in order to avoid confusion. Water hemlock is one that is part of the same family and is a member of the genus Cicuta. These plants are typically mistaken for edible plants but because of its strong neurotoxin, ingestion is known to cause death in animals in less than 20 minutes.
Nerium oleander might be absolutely beautiful, and is widely known to be ornamental; however, all parts of the plant are deadly as it contains oleandrin and nerrine. If ingested, the plant’s cardiac glycosides can cause vomiting, diarrhea, a racing heart, abdominal pain, seizures, and death. Even skin contact can be an irritant. Very few toxic events in humans have been reported which are credited to the plant’s bitter taste.
Yes, the Cerbera Odollam is so deadly it’s been dubbed the suicide tree. Some have even referred to it as the perfect murder weapon because of its inconspicuous taste. The toxin called cerberin blocks the calcium ion channels in the heart muscle causing an irregular heartbeat and, generally, ends in death. Its uses are often for manufacturing bio insecticides as well as deodorants and because it resembles the oleander it often goes over looked.
The Brugmansia is called “angels trumpet” because of the large, hanging, trumpet shaped flowers that make up its appearance. The plant contains high levels of scopolamine and atropine, and in most cases, ingestion is fatal. Mostly used as ornamental plants, the Brugmansia does have some medicinal uses that carry narcotic, anesthetic, and even anti-asthmatic properties, which have been proven valuable. Keep in mind though that its value comes after the plant has been artificially synthesized.
The Abrus precatorius is most recognizable for its long leaves as well as the way it twines around its environment, such as trees and hedges. It is best known for its seeds that contain abrin, and although highly toxic, are often times are used in percussion instruments. The plant has known to become invasive especially in tropical regions and has staked its home all over the world. Once it becomes rooted, it is extremely difficult to remove. Its toxicity is just like ricin. Ingesting intact seeds may not cause any clinical findings as it can pass and be digested because of its hard shell, but if you are poisoned, symptoms will include nausea, vomiting, convulsions, liver failure, and death. Once the poison enters your system, it can cause organ failure within a matter of days.
According to legend, Macbeth’s soldier used Atropa Belladonna to poison enemies with wine made from nightshade. The trickery of this plant lies in the sweetness of its berries. This plant is quite the celebrity among the poisonous kind as its name Belladonna even translates to “beautiful woman” in Italian. Nightshade contains atropine and scopolamine, which is similar to the Angel’s Trumpet, which is just as deadly. Along with those toxins, Nightshade carries hyoscyamine, which can cause bizarre delirium and hallucinations. Historically, women used Belladonna drops to dilate their pupils in order to get a desired result from the art of seduction. Today, Belladonna’s cosmetic uses are no more as prolonged usage can cause adverse effects leading to blindness.
So, keep your eyes open when it comes to these poisonous plants. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
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