Flowers are the perfect way to say ‘I love you’, but certain floral arrangements risk saying something quite different. Mostly through a process of trial and (likely unfortunate) error, people discovered those few flowers that are actually life threatening. They’re the flowers that, when ingested, have the capacity to kill both animals and humans. Unfortunately, not everyone has this information; they populate their gardens with a variety of poisonous plants, only to have a beloved pet or child innocently put a flower petal or berry in the mouth and suffer the consequences.
Scientists categorize flowering plants and bushes according to their toxicity levels. At one end of the spectrum sit the most toxic flowers, those that pose serious risks to human and animal health. At the other end of the spectrum are the less toxic flowers, those that are considered irritants and tend to cause skin rashes such as poison ivy.
If you want to send a passive aggressive gift this Mother’s day (but seriously, don’t), then take note of the color and form of the following pretty flowers that say ‘I love you to death.’
10. Poison Hemlock
Poison Hemlock (Conium maculatum), best known as the plant that ended the life of Socrates, needs no other introduction. Oddly enough, though, while it’s deadly qualities are well-know, it’s less common knowledge that this one belongs to the carrot family.
‘Devil’s porridge’, as it’s alternatively named, is filled with an alkaloid called coniine. Stomach aches, nausea and vomiting represent initial symptoms associated with Hemlock ingestion. Ultimately it can also cause paralysis and death.
9. Death Camas
Lilies remain one of the most popular choices for gardens and flower vases in homes around the world. But most people don’t realise that many lily species contain varying amounts of toxins. With a name like Death Camas, Zigadenus is a type of flower in the lily family – in this pretty flower, the relationship between toxins and lilies becomes readily apparent.
Dangerous but not deadly for humans, this flower does represent a deadly threat to livestock that graze in pastures where it grows, especially during the spring. The toxins in death camas is so strong that they can easily kill unsuspecting livestock within hours of consuming the plant. Deaths are also particularly ugly, consisting of frothing at the mouth, nausea and vomiting.
Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) fits squarely into the ‘times change’ category. A native European plant that once ranked as a prized ornamental plant when it was first imported by the early colonial settlers, this now ranks as a weed because it grows aggressively in the wild.
All parts of the plant are toxic, containing substances such as Deslanoside, Digitoxin and Digitalis glycoside. They work on the heart muscle and ingesting the plant can cause serious harm, including headaches, irregular heartbeats, vomiting and death.
7. White Snake Root
White snake root (Ageratina altissima), the plant most famous for allegedly causing the death of President Lincoln’s mother, grows in many areas of North America. Small white, inconspicuous flowers make the plant easy to overlook. That would be a mistake.
It’s known to cause death in grazing animals who consume either small doses over time or one large dose. The medical community remains up in the air regarding its immediate effect on human health. Nonetheless, ample documentation exists showing the ill effects for humans who consume milk from cows that consume white snake root.
Beautiful flowers might be the only thing going for Oleander (Nerium oleander). A small shrub or tree commonly used as an ornamental in the yard contains a toxin called Cardenolide Glycosides Pose, and it represents both a passive and active danger to human life and health.
Don’t eat the flowers – they are deadly. Don’t even think about chopping up the tree and using the wood for the fireplace or cookout. The smoke from burning oleander is toxic. Even crazier, you can be poisoned by eating honey made by bees that pollinate the plants.
5. White Baneberry
The woods have eyes and White Baneberry, better known as Doll’s eye, are proof. The plant produces some pretty white flowers that transform into full-grown berries. They create an illusion of eyes in the woods, and they grow like weeds, in most open areas of the East Coast.
All parts of the plant pose potential health risks for humans and animals, with the fruit of the plant containing most of the plant’s toxic material. The strange looking berries can appear as tempting treats for unsuspecting hikers, including children. It’s best to leave them to the birds.
4. Angels Trumpets
With a name like angel’s trumpets, this flower sounds downright enchanting. Naive people who consume the plant, however, might very well experience the coming of angels. It’s a native South American plant that now grows freely in the wild across North America. The entire plant contains poisonous substances such as tropane alkaloids scopolamine and atropine.
On any sunny summer’s day, mountain hikers in the northern hemisphere might cross paths with some beautiful purple flowers. In the case of Wolfsbane, or Devil’s Helmet, the beauty is only skin deep.
The flower’s nicknames refer to various species in the Aconitum genus of the buttercup family and they produce poisons sufficient to kill both man and beast. Their lethal effect on animals probably explains references to these plants in werewolf lore – folk tales passed down over time holds that Wolfsbane has the power to ward off the beasts.
2. Deadly Nightshade
With names like Deadly Nightshade and Devils Berries, nobody should be in any doubt about the nature of these nasty flowers. True to its name, the entire plant contains deadly poisons called Tropane alkaloids.
When ingested, some of the alkaloids can cause delirium and hallucinations, breathing difficulty and convulsions. The plant also produces sweet tasting berries; even in very small quantities, these berries are capable of killing children who ingest them. And forget about brewing tea – most of the poison is contained in the leaves.
1. Opium Poppy
Arguably no other flowering plant has done more damage to people around the world than the opium poppy (Papaver somniferum). World famous as the narcotic base used for the production of heroin, it’s been a tool of war – as in the case of the Opium Wars of 1839–1842 and 1856–1860 – and it’s generally bad news for growers and users across the world.
About the nicest thing one can say about the plant is that it produces pretty, colorful flowers that grow on a pod. Both growers and users care little about the flowers, however. Their interest lies with the pod, which produces alkaloids such as morphine that serve as the foundation for the global heroin production and trade market.
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