Poisonous plants around the home

Material Information

Poisonous plants around the home
Series Title:
Bulletin - Florida Cooperative Extension Service ; 175C
West, Erdman, 1894-
Florida Cooperative Extension Service
Place of Publication:
Gainesville, Fla.
Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida
Publication Date:
Copyright Date:
Physical Description:
38 p. : ill. ; 28 cm.


Subjects / Keywords:
Poisonous plants -- Florida ( lcsh )
City of Orlando ( local )
Flowers ( jstor )
Poisonous plants ( jstor )
Rural extension ( jstor )
government publication (state, provincial, terriorial, dependent) ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )


General Note:
Cover title.
General Note:
"June 1973."
General Note:
"Revision of no. 175, 1960."
General Note:
"Originally printed as Circular S-100 of the Agricultural Experiment Station"--P. 2 of cover.
Statement of Responsibility:
Erdman West.

Record Information

Source Institution:
University of Florida
Holding Location:
University of Florida
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
434829341 ( OCLC )


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/ ~~

Cooperative fE~sion Service
Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
University of Florida, Gainesville

JUNE 1973



Introduction ..........................................

Description of poisonous plants
Allamanda, yellow ..................................
Barbadosnut, purgenut ................................
Castor bean, palma crista .......................
Crabeye, rosary pea ..................................
Crape-Jasmine .....................................
Crown-of-thorns ................................
Dieffenbachia, dumb-cane ........................

Gloriosa, climbing lily, glorylily ...........
H ydrangea ................... .......... ...... ..........
Jessamine, yellow, carolina jessamine ...
Jimsonweed, angel trumpet .....................
Larkspur, annual .-..............-.....................
Larkspur, hardy ..................................

M ango ............... ......... .......... .......................
Milk-bush, pencil bush, malabartree, euphorbia ....

Oleander, common .................... ................
Poinsettia ............... ............ ..
Poke, pokeweed, pokeberry .....................
Primrose, top primrose ............... ........
P rivet, ligustrum .......... .................... ... ..............
Tobacco, tree ....................... ........
Tung, tung nut .................... .....
Yellow -oleander, lucky nut ....................................


........ ..... ... .... 3



..................... 24
..................... 25
----------.-----.-.--- '27
................... 27
........ ......... 29
..................... 29
............ ... 31
..................... 32
................. 33
............. ........ 3 5
...... 36

(Originally printed as Circular S-100 of the
Agricultural Experiment Station)

This public document was promulgated at an
annual cost of $1,571.82, or .104 cents per copy
to inform home owners about poisonous plants.

First Printing July 1960
Second Printing June 1964
Third Printing June 1966
Fourth Printing June 1967
Fifth Printing June 1973

(Acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914)
Cooperative Extension Service, University of Florida,
and United States Department of Agriculture, Cooperating
J. N. Busby, Dean

-- -------------- ...............................
............................................... -
------------------------ I ...................... _
---- --------------------------------------------
------- ------------------------------ -----------

Poisonous Plants Around the Home
Botanist and Mycologist

Some of the many plants used for beautification in and around
Florida homes are toxic if eaten; some are irritating if they
come in contact with the skin. Under normal circumstances no
adult would think of eating these ornamental plants, but some-
times they are ingested accidentally or swallowed thoughtlessly
by children. Such alarming symptoms may follow that a phy-
sician is needed. He can treat the trouble symptomatically and,
in most cases, this will prove entirely sufficient so that the inci-
dent ends happily. Touching certain plants can result in an irri-
tation of the skin similar to ivy poisoning, at least for certain
susceptible individuals.
The purpose of this bulletin is twofold: first, to enable citi-
zens to recognize which common plants can cause poisoning or
dermatitis; and second, to assist physicians in adjusting treat-
ment to the specific substance involved when cases of plant
poisoning come to their attention.
Many gardeners and home owners are not aware that some
of our common garden plants contain highly poisonous sub-
stances. Most of these plants have such an unpleasant taste
or consistency that it is not likely anyone would chew them very
long or swallow any part of them. Some of them, however, do
not taste bad and hence might be chewed and swallowed inad-
These remarks hold true for adults, but the situation with
regard to children is very different. Youngsters may eat small
amounts of almost anything, especially if a dare is involved.
Small children often chew on anything that happens to be avail-
able. Even crawlers in a play pen may reach out between the
bars and pull in anything within reach. Grass and most lawn
weeds are harmless but poisonous mushrooms may grow in such
areas. Play pens set out-of-doors should always be placed in
an area that has been examined and cleared of dangerous items.
As soon as possible, children should be taught to avoid put-
ting anything in their mouths except food. Adults, too, should
refrain from the habit of chewing on leaves or twigs of plants as
they walk through a garden or in the woods. Collecting and
eating wild mushrooms, unless you know positively they are
1 Deceased. See page 39.

Florida Agricultural Extension Service

edible, is very dangerous business. There are no satisfactory
guides available for the identification of edible wild mushrooms
in Florida.
Skin irritation or dermatitis caused by contact with a plant
is sometimes difficult to trace to its source. If it occurs periodic-
ally, an effort should be made to remember what contacts pre-
ceded the outbreaks. In this way the culprit may be identified
and avoided in the future if the plant cannot be entirely elim-
inated. Among the most common causes of contact dermatitis
are poison ivy, common ragweed, oleander, mango leaves and
fruits, yellow jessamine and greenhouse primulas. Not every-
one is susceptible to all or any of these and occasionally individ-
uals are irritated by contact with other, often less-common
plants. Susceptible individuals usually can diagnose the cause
of their own troubles by close observation of the circumstances
under which their disability occurs.
The name and nature of the toxic content of the poisonous
plants in the bulletin are mentioned whenever they are known.
In only a very few cases is the percentage of the toxic material
known. In most poisonous plants the concentration of the poison
varies from one specimen to another so that percentages are
often unreliable. Since the concentration of the poison may be
higher in some plant organs than in others, this information is
furnished wherever known.
Poison ivy is not described in this publication because it is
seldom found in home gardens. Plants poisonous to livestock
are considered in Experiment Station Bulletin 510, Poisonous
Plants in Florida.
Description.-Yellow allamanda (Allamanda cathartica L.)
(Fig. 1) is a vigorous vine or weak-stemmed shrub with leafy
stems growing as much as 15 feet in a season. The leaves, pro-
duced in pairs or in whorls of 3 or 4, are elliptical, 4 to 6 inches
long, and tapering at both ends. The large yellow flowers are
produced in clusters near the ends of the branches. The indi-
vidual flowers, which open a few at a time, vary from 2 to 6
inches in diameter and have 5 rounded petals attached to a
cup-like tubular throat that becomes abruptly narrow below.
The fruits are rounded, spiny pods, an inch or more in length.
Habitat and Distribution.-Yellow allamanda, a native of
Brazil, has become very common in Florida, especially from Or-

Poisonous Plants Around the Home

lando southward. There are many forms varying slightly in
flower size, leaf shape, hairiness and ultimate size of the vine.
The plant is usually grown on an arbor or trellis but it is occa-
sionally used without support.

Fig. 1.-Yellow allamanda.

Toxicity.-The bark, leaves, seeds and juice have been used
for their cathartic effect. In Florida the plant, especially the
fruit, has acquired the reputation of being dangerously poison-
ous. No known poison has been extracted from the plant.

Florida Agricultural Extension Service

Description.-Barbadosnut (Jatropha curcas L.) (Fig. 2) is
a coarse annual plant or small tree up to 15 feet tall. The thick
stems are green, smooth and succulent. The dark green leaves
are borne on petioles or stalks 4 inches or more long. The leaves
are thick, 6 inches or more wide, heart-shaped or coarsely 3 to 5
lobed. The tiny yellow flowers are produced in small clusters on
stalks in the axils of the leaves and usually are more or less hid-
den by the foliage. The plump ovoid fruits are green in color at

Fig. 2.-Barbadosnut.

Poisonous Plants Around the Home

first, becoming nearly black as they ripen and dry. Each fruit
contains 3 black seeds about 3/4 inch long. The meat of the
seeds is white and oily in texture.
Habitat and Distribution.-Barbadosnut originated in the
American tropics but is now widely planted in Florida, mostly
south of Orlando. It is used as a specimen plant for the tropical
effect of the large leaves and occasionally to make a screen be-
cause of its rapid growth. The seeds are a source of oil for fine
painting but they are not now produced commercially for this
purpose in Florida.
Toxicity.-Numerous cases of poisoning by this plant have
occurred in Florida during the past several years. There seem
to be 2 strains of the plant. One bears poisonous seeds and 1
produces innocuous seeds, but the 2 strains of the plant look
alike. All cases of poisoning have occurred from eating the
seeds and some individuals have required hospitalization. The
seeds contain a violent purgative and curcin, a toxin somewhat
like ricin from castor-bean.

Description.-Castor-bean (Ricinus communis L.) (Fig. 3)
is a robust annual herb, growing to the size of a small tree in
South Florida. The strong stems, 4 to 10 feet tall, are erect,
often crooked, green or red to purple in color and sometimes
covered with a white, waxy coating. The alternate leaves, 4 to
30 inches across, are simple and borne on long, stiff stalks; the
leaf-blades are thin with prominent ribs, green or reddish, star-
shaped with 5 to 9 or more lobes, thin and finely toothed along the
margin. The stalk is attached to the leaf-blades some distance
in from the margin. The flower clusters are produced at the
ends of branches, but because lateral branches grow past them
they appear lateral. The flowers, produced in narrow, upright
clusters 6 to 12 inches long, are greenish white or reddish brown,
about 1/2 inch across and lack petals. The fruits are erect, oval,
green or red and covered with stiff, fleshy spines. The seeds,
3 in each pod, are about 1/ inch long, elliptic, black, white or
mottled with gray, black, brown and white.
Habitat and Distribution.-Castor-bean, a native of the trop-
ics, has been widely planted as an ornamental and to a less extent
as a crop plant. From these plantings, seeds have been scattered
widely over Florida. It is common on rich soil in gardens, around
dumping grounds and in the Everglades around Lake Okeechobee.

Florida Agricultural Extension Service

Toxicity.-Castor-bean contains a poisonous principle, ricin,
which is a true protein, as well as ricinoleic acid and oleic acid.

Fig. 3.-Castor-bean.

Description.-Rosary pea (Abrus precatorius L.) (Fig. 4)
is a woody vine, climbing to a height of 10 to 20 feet on other
plants, arbors or other support. The young stems are green
but the older woody parts are covered with brown to gray bark.
The leaves, borne alternately, consist of 8 to 15 pairs of oblong
leaflets each about 1/2 inch long. The flowers are produced in
axillary racemes 1 to 3 inches long. The individual flowers are
about 1/4 inch long, sweet pea-shaped and either white, creamy
or purplish in color. The pods are flattened, broad, about 11/2
inches long, brown and covered with appressed hairs. The pods

Poisonous Plants Around the Home

persist on the vine, splitting along 1 side and spreading open
to show the 2 rows of seeds. Each seed is ovoid, less than 14
inch long, bright scarlet in color except for the lower one third,
which is jet black.

Fig. 4.-Crabeye.

Florida Agricultural Extension Service

Habitat and Distribution.-Rosary pea is a native of Burma
but it has been widely distributed around the world in tropical
and subtropical climates. In Florida it is rarely planted but has
become a weed along fencerows and in gardens, citrus groves
and native vegetation from Orlando southward. The highly
colored seeds have been made into rosaries and necklaces and
fastened on dolls for decorations. They are often used as toys
by children.
Toxicity.-The poisonous principle, concentrated mostly in
the seed, is known as abrin, a toxalbumin. It is slowly absorbed
from the gastrointestinal tract. Little seems known concerning
the composition of abrin. The seed coat is very hard and imper-
vious to moisture so that whole, uncracked seeds may be swal-
lowed with little or no danger. However, one seed thoroughly
chewed and swallowed is sufficient to cause fatal poisoning of
an adult human being.
The symptoms in humans are nausea, vomiting, severe diar-
rhoea, weakness, cold perspiration, colic, small and accelerated
pulse, and trembling of hands.


Description.-Crape-jasmine (Ervatamia coronaria Stapf.)
(Fig. 5) is a rather succulent shrub, 3 to 8 feet tall, with widely
forking or whorled, smooth branches. The bright green leaves,
opposite or in threes, are oblong or lance-shaped, 3 to 6 inches
long. The flowers, 1 to 2 inches across, are produced in small
clusters in the upper forks of the branches, usually below the
upper leaves. They are pure white with a yellowish tubular
base. The petals are 5 in number (many in double-flowered va-
rieties) and crimped on the margins, hence the common name.
Habitat and Distribution.-Crape-jasmine, a native of India,
is now widely planted in Florida gardens as far north as Gaines-
ville. It is also frequently used in base plantings and shrub
borders and occasionally as a hedge plant. It is not showy be-
cause the flowers are hidden under the leaves. However, the
flowers are somewhat fragrant.
Toxicity.-The roots and bark of crape-jasmine contain 11/2
to 2 percent of an alkaloid that has been used in the treatment
of cataracts and cardiac diseases. The flowers contain steroid-
like compounds. None of these materials have been more spe-
cifically identified in literature.

Poisonous Plants Around the Home

Fig. 5.-Crape-jasmine.

Description.-Crown-of-thorns (Euphorbia milii Ch. des Mou-
lins) (Fig. 6) is a low-growing, shrubby plant with very thorny
stems and branches. The thick, fleshy stems are about 1 foot
tall but may become scandent and as much as 3 feet long in a
warm climate. They are purplish in color and armed with numer-
ous stiff, sharp-pointed spines 1/ to 1 inch long. The leaves,
obovate in form, 1 to 21/ inches in length, are few in number,
mostly at the ends of new growth. The small flowers are pro-
duced in long-stalked clusters of 2, 4, 6, or 8, each with a pair
of broadly ovate, bright red bracts about 1/ inch across.

Florida Agricultural Extension Service

Habitat and Distribution.-Crown-of-thorns is native in Mad-
agascar but is now widely grown as a cultivated plant. It is often
used as a house or window plant or grown in a pot or jardinier
for a porch or doorstep ornament. In the southern part of the
state the plant is grown out-of-doors along walks, by walls and
in rock gardens.

Fig. 6.-Crown-of-thorns.

Toxicity.-The milky sap or latex is quite irritating to the
skin of some people, acting as a vesicant. The root contains an
unclassified toxic substance. The plant has been used as a purga-
Description.-Dieffenbachia, or dumb cane (Dieffenbachia
seguine (Vent.) Schott, D. picta (Lodd.) Schott) (Fig. 7) is a
tender house plant. The green stems, 3 to 6 feet tall, are fleshy,
about 1 inch or less thick. The leaves, borne on leaf-stalks 2 to
6 inches or more long, are nearly oblong in general shape. The
leaf bases are wedge shaped or slightly heart shaped but the tips
are sharp pointed. The basic color of the leaves is green but

( i)

Poisonous Plants Around the Home

many horticultural forms are variously spotted, streaked or mot-
tled with white, lighter or darker green or yellow green. Some
varieties are green only on the margins and midrib. The incon-
spicuous floral parts look like a tightly rolled green or spotted
leaf, 2 to 4 inches long, enclosing the minute true flowers.
Habitat and Distribution.-Dieffenbachia is native to tropical
American countries but was brought into cultivation as a green-
house or conservatory plant over 100 years ago. Although it is

Fig. 7.-Dieffenbachia.

Florida Agricultural Extension Service

widely used as a house plant in Florida, it is also planted out-of-
doors in the warmer parts of the state. It is often used for dec-
orating restaurants and hotel lobbies. Plants are readily avail-
able in variety stores and at florists.
Toxicity.-The nature of the toxic constituents of dieffen-
bachia is still a mystery. There are enough rhaphides of cal-
cium oxalate present to cause irritation of the mucous membranes
if the plant is chewed. Swallowing the chewed material may
result in swelling of the throat and temporary loss of speech;
hence, its name "dumb cane." It is reputed to cause temporary
sterility. Other more serious toxic symptoms have been re-
corded but the causal agent has not been isolated.

Description.-Gloriosa (Gloriosa superba L.) is a slender,
herbaceous plant growing from a thick, fleshy, elongated, pale
brown, tuberous rootstock. The weak stems, upright at first,
attain a height of 5 to 7 feet. The numerous narrow leaves
grow alternately or in pairs all along the stem except on the
lower 5 to 8 inches. Each leaf is 4 to 7 inches long, 1/2 to 1 inch
or more wide and ends in a narrow curled tip. These leaf ends
act as tendrils, twining around any suitable support and holding
the plant in a more or less erect position.
The long-stalked flowers are produced in the axils of the upper
leaves or on 2 or 3 short lateral branches. Each flower consists
of 6 parts, 2 to 3 inches long, 1/ inch wide, narrow, crinkled
along the edges and yellow or yellow and red in color or becom-
ing red all over as the flower fades. The floral parts are turned
up sharply with the 6 yellow stamens and the green pistil pro-
jecting below them. The pod is pendant, 3 lobed, oblong and 2
to 3 inches long. The numerous seeds are orange brown and
globular, about 1/16 inch in diameter.
Related Species.-Gloriosa rothschildiana O'Brien (Fig. 8)
is similar but the flower parts are wider and wavy on the mar-
gins. The toxicity is said to be similar.
Habitat and Distribution.-Gloriosa is native to the tropics
of Asia and Africa but is widely used as a garden flower. It may
be planted around the home in any part of Florida. The bril-
liantly colored flowers make it a favorite to plant among shrubs
or on an arbor or fence. The tubers are often dug in the fall
and stored for the winter. The seeds are often saved the same

Poisonous Plants Around the Home

Toxicity.-All parts of this plant are poisonous, with the
highest concentration of toxic materials in the tubers. Death
has been reported to have occurred within 4 hours after tubers
were eaten. Apparently, the most toxic content is a mixture of
alkaloids, chiefly colchicine (0.3 percent of the tubers).

Symptoms reported include numbness of lips, tongue and
throat; nausea and diarrhoea with blood; giddiness and loss of
power in limbs; heaviness of eyelids and photophobia; respira-

16 Florida Agricultural Extension Service

tory embarrassment; a quick, feeble pulse; convulsions and loss
of consciousness.
Description.-The garden hydrangea (Hydrangea macro-
phylla Ser.) (Fig. 9) is a stiff, stout shrub 3 to 12 feet tall. All

Fig. 9.-Hydrangea.

Poisonous Plants Around the Home

parts of the shrub are smooth. The stems are green at first but
soon become pale brown in color. The opposite leaves are ellipti-
cal, often broadly so, 3 to 6 inches long and light to dark green.
The leaf tips are sharp pointed, the bases broad and the margins
coarsely toothed. The flowers are borne at the end of stems in
dense, rounded clusters sometimes a foot in diameter. The indi-
vidual flowers are pink, blue or almost white. Each is about 1/
inch in diameter and divided into 4 or 5 rounded lobes.
Habitat and Distribution.-The common garden hydrangea
is a native of Japan but is widely grown in Florida. This con-
spicuous shrub is usually planted around homes in the base
planting, but it is also used as a specimen in the yard.
Toxicity.-Garden hydrangea contains hydrangin, a cyano-
genetic glycoside. One instance of poisoning by this plant in
Florida is known.

Description.-Carolina-jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens
(L.) Ait. f.) (Fig. 10) is a high-climbing, woody vine that often
covers the tops of small trees and bushes, but in the absence of
support, may trail on the ground and produce many slender,
more or less upright stems. The main stems of large vines are
gray and 1 inch or more in diameter, but the majority of the
branches are thin, wiry, much branched and tangled, glossy and
dark reddish-brown in color. The short-stalked leaves are simple
and always produced in pairs; the leaf-blades, 1/ to 21/2 inches
long, are ovate to lanceolate, not very sharp pointed, rounded at
the base, smooth on the margin and dark green, though often
marked with irregular reddish-brown discolorations, especially in
winter. The clear yellow, sweet-scented flowers, produced in late
winter and early spring, are borne in small clusters in the laf
axils of the slender twigs in such profusion as to form conspic-
uous masses of color. The individual flowers, tubular with 5
flaring lobes, are 1 to 11/ inches long. The seed pods are brown,
flat, less than 1 inch long and contain several small, winged seeds.
Habitat and Distribution.-Carolina-jessamine grows abun-
dantly in open hammocks, but is also found in thickets, swamps
and open fields, along fence-rows, around stumps, and on rocky
bluffs. The vine is most widely distributed in northern Florida
but occurs as far south as Osceola County.

Florida Agricultural Extension Service

Toxicity.-Yellow-jessamine contains the crystalline alkaloid,
gelsemine, and the amorphous alkaloids, gelseminine and gel-
semoidine. Other alkaloids have been reported isolated from
the plant. These alkaloids constitute the poisonous principles
in the plant. They chiefly depress and paralyze motor nerve
endings. Depression of the motor neurons of the brain and
spinal cord result in respiratory arrest.

Fig. 10.-Yellow jessamine.

The flowers, leaves and roots contain the toxic alkaloids,
with the highest concentration being in the roots from which
extractions have been made for medicinal purposes.

Poisonous Plants Around the Home

Description.-Jimsonweed (Datura stramonium L.) is a large
annual weed, 3 to 5 feet tall, with several widespreading branches
near the top of the stem. The main stem and branches are
smooth and green or purplish. The alternate leaves are smooth,
light green and stalked; the leaf-blades, 3 to 8 inches long, are
thin, ovate to elliptic, pointed at both ends, and bear large,
irregular, sharp-pointed teeth along the margins. The erect
flowers, borne singly in the leaf axils, are short-stalked, funnel-
shaped but flaring out into a 5-pointed star and white or pale
bluish-purple in color. The 4-celled fruit is a dry, hard cap-
sule, ovate, green, becoming pale brown, and covered with
hard, sharp prickles. The pod, about 1 inch long, splits into 4
sections, each containing numerous seeds.

Fig. 11.-Jimsonweed.
Habitat and Distribution.-Jimsonweed is found nearly all
over the state, but more commonly north of Orlando. It occurs
in cultivated fields, gardens, around farm buildings, particularly

Florida Agricultural Extension Service

old barn lots, roadsides and refuse heaps and nearly always on
fertile soil.

Fig. 12.-Angel's trumpet.

Related Species.-Certain horticultural forms of D. stramon-
ium L. (Fig. 11) are more often found in gardens. These have
large flowers, usually blue, purple or otherwise highly colored
and the petals are often doubled or tripled. The plant known as
Angel's Trumpet or Gabriel's Trumpet (Datura suaveolens H. &
B.) (Fig. 12) has large, white pendulous flowers and larger leaves
than jimsonweed. Other Datura spp. are found occasionally in

Poisonous Plants Around the Home

flower gardens. All these related species are equal in toxicity to
jimsonweed and contain the same alkaloids.
Toxicity.-Jimsonweed contains the toxic alkaloids hyoscya-
mine, atropine, and scopolamine, which make up about 0.3 per-
cent of the dry weight of the plant. All parts of the plant, par-
ticularly the seeds, are poisonous. Children have been poisoned
by eating the fruit or sucking the flowers.

Description.-Annual larkspur (Delphinium ajacis L.) (Fig.
13) is an upright annual garden plant grown for its flowers.
Young plants form dense rosettes 5 to 10 inches across, composed
of numerous finely cut leaves on long stalks. The flowering stem
rises from the center of the rosette to a height of 2 to 4 feet with
a few scattered leaves, also finely cut. The flowers, borne on the
upper part of the stem, are about 1 inch across and composed of
5 parts (single-flowered varieties) or 10 or more parts (double-
flowered varieties). There is usually a spur projection backward
from the upper floral part. Flowers vary in color from white to
pink, rose, blue, or purple or may be striped. The fruits are
urn-shaped capsules.
Habitat and Distribution.-Annual larkspur is strictly a gar-
den plant grown in flower beds in the home garden. It is occa-
sionally grown as a cut flower by florists and sold in shops as a
Toxicity.-No cases of larkspur poisoning are known for
Florida. In Western states larkspur poisoning causes more
losses of cattle than any other poisonous plant excepting loco-
weed. The toxic alkaloid, delphinine, seems to be the most pow-
erful agent present and the most constantly associated with the
trouble. Other toxic alkaloids that may be present include del-
phinoidine, delphisine and staphisagroine.
Annual larkspur is a common annual in flower beds in the
home garden. It is not likely to be dangerous unless eaten in
considerable quantity.

Description. Hardy larkspur (Delphinium cheilanthum
Fisch. and Delphinium spp.) (Fig. 14) is a hardy perennial plant
often used in flower gardens. The rounded but deeply dissected
leaves borne on long slender stalks are produced in rosettes of
5 to 10 or more from the base of the plant. The crooked flower-

Florida Agricultural Extension Service

Fig. 13.-Annual larkspur.

Poisonous Plants Around the Home

ing stems, growing from the center of the leafy rosette, reach a
height of 12 to 18 inches or more. The few stem leaves, much
smaller and narrower than the basal leaves, are cut into 2 to 4
segments. The pale blue flowers scattered along the flowering
stems are slender-stalked. There are 5 petal-like parts in each
flower with the uppermost segment prolonged into a conspicuous
spur at the back.

Fig. 14.-Hardy larkspur.

Florida Agricultural Extension Service

Habitat and Distribution.-Hardy larkspur is often used in
home flower gardens and sometimes grown by florists for cut
flowers. It is a short-lived plant in our climate, and young
planting stock is usually imported from Northern nurseries. It
thrives best in the northern and western areas of Florida.
Toxicity.-For poisonous contents and qualities of hardy
larkspur, see under Annual larkspur (page 21).

Fig. 15.-Mango.

Description.-Mango (Mangifera indica L.) (Fig. 15), a
large evergreen tropical fruit tree, grows up to 60 feet in height.
The general form of the tree is usually low and spreading. The
alternate leaves are narrow, pointed at both ends, 6 to 16 inches
in length, 1 to 2 inches wide and dark green in color. The num-
erous lateral veins are prominent. Young growth is reddish and
conspicuous. The yellowish flowers are small, 1/4 inch in diameter
and produced in large, branched clusters at the ends of branches.

Poisonous Plants Around the Home

The fruits are large, 2 to 6 inches in length, irregularly ovoid in
shape and usually asymmetrical. The color may be red, yellow,
or green with a red cheek. The yellow flesh is thick and pen-
etrated by few to many tough fibers extending from the single,
flattened seed outward towards the smooth skin.
Habitat and Distribution.-The mango is native to India but
has been widely planted in tropical and subtropical regions
around the world. It is commonly used as a home garden fruit
tree in southern Florida. Older seedling trees are often left for
shade. Mango trees may be found as far north as Orlando.
Toxicity.-Because mango is related botanically to poison ivy,
susceptible individuals who contact the plant can develop a derm-
atitis similar to ivy poisoning. A relatively small proportion of
our population suffers from this irritation but handling any part
of the plant may result in the trouble. Susceptible persons suffer
severely around the mouth after eating fresh, ripe fruits, but
cooking destroys the causal material.

Description.-Milk-bush (Euphorbia tirucalli L.) (Fig. 16)
is a shrub, or small, much-branched tree up to 15 feet tall. On
old plants the trunk, 3 inches or more in diameter, is grayish but
all the rest of the plant is green in color. The branches and twigs
are cylindrical, fleshy and 1/4 inch or more thick. The twigs are
produced in whorl-like clusters at the ends of each flush of
growth. The leaves, 1 inch or less long, are narrowly oval and
green. They are produced at the ends of the twigs and soon fall
off. The small, inconspicuous flowers are produced with the
leaves at the tips of the green twigs.
Habitat and Distribution.-Milk-bush is a native of India but
has been widely planted in southern Florida. The effect is bizarre
rather than beautiful, for the interest is in the bushy, green
branches in the absence of conspicuous flowers or leaves. It has
been used in base plantings, as a curious-looking specimen and
rarely as a hedge plant. It is seldom grown out-of-doors north
of Orlando but may be used as a house plant.
Toxicity.-The milky sap of the milk-bush contains a vesicant
that is quite irritating to the skin of many people. If eaten, the
plant parts are reputed to be dangerously toxic but the poisonous
content has not been identified. It has been used as a fish poison
in its native country.

Florida Agricultural Extension Service

Fig. 16.-Milk-bush.

Fig. 17.-Oleander

Poisonous Plants Around the Home

Description.-Oleander (Nerium oleander L.) (Fig. 17) is a
woody shrub or small tree ranging in height from 5 to 25 feet.
When allowed to grow naturally it produces a large number of
stems and forms a dense clump, but occasionally plants are
trimmed to a single large trunk with a much-branched crown.
The bark on young stems is smooth and green, but older branches
and trunks are gray and roughened by many raised lenticels.
The numerous short-stalked leaves are borne in pairs or more
often in whorls of 3 around the twigs. The leaf-blades are sim-
ple, narrow, evergreen, leathery, pointed at the tip, dull dark
green above with a prominent lighter colored midrib. They are
3 to 10 inches long and smooth on the margin. The leaves usually
turn yellow before falling and the leaf-scars are prominent on
twigs and branches.
The flowers, produced in early summer or all year in the
warmer parts of the state, are borne in upright clusters at the
ends of branches on the upper part of the shrub. They vary in
color from white through pink, creamy yellow and rose to deep
red. Normally, there are 5 petals about 1 inch long with a
fringed appendage at the base of each, but many cultivated forms
are found in gardens with double (many petalled) flowers.
The pods, not commonly produced, are long, narrow, cylindri-
cal and paired. The numerous seeds are furnished with a tuft
of brown hairs. All parts of the plants, but especially the new
growth, exude a gummy, sticky sap when injured.
Habitat and Distribution.-Oleander, an exotic plant, is found
only where it has been planted, but it has been widely used for
hedges, screen plantings and as an ornamental.
Toxicity.-All parts of the plant are poisonous if eaten. One
leaf is reported to be sufficient to kill an adult human. The dry
leaves are almost as toxic as the green ones. Children may be
poisoned by carrying flowers around in their mouths in play.
A number of individuals have suffered serious poisoning after
eating frankfurters roasted on oleander stems over an open fire
at picnics. Inhaling smoke from burning oleander stems and
leaves has caused symptoms of poisoning. A discomforting der-
matitis is incurred by susceptible individuals following contact
of the bare skin with any part of the oleander plant.
Two toxic glucosides, nerioside and oleandroside, with prop-
erties similar to those of the digitalis glucosides, have -been iso-
lated from oleander. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, colic,

Florida Agricultural Extension Service

Fig. 18.-Poinsettia.

Poisonous Plants Around the Home

dizziness, drowsiness, decreased pulse rate, irregular heart ac-
tion, marked mydriasis, bloody diarrhoea, unconsciousness, respi-
ratory paralysis and death.

Description.-Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima Willd.)
(Fig. 18) is a shrub or small tree, 5 feet or more tall. The old
stems are brown but all stems of the season are green. The
large green leaves are alternate, often on red stalks. The blades,
3 to 6 inches or more long, are ovate to elliptic, pointed at the tip,
more or less rounded at the base with the margins entire or with
coarse, shallow teeth. Healthy leaves are dark green above,
paler and slightly fuzzy underneath. In fall, clusters of small,
greenish flowers bearing bright yellow glands are produced at
the tips of the branches. The floral bracts or leaves just below
the flowers are colored bright red, although pink, yellowish or
white forms may be found. The 3-lobed fruits are seldom pro-
duced except in the extreme southern part of Florida. All parts
exude a milky sap when injured.
Habitat and Distribution.-Poinsettia is native to southern
Mexico and Central America, but is widely planted all over Flor-
ida, sometimes being grown as a pot plant. It is often planted
in base plantings and along fence-rows. Few home gardens are
without at least 1 plant or clump. In most areas the tops are in-
jured by winter cold and the stems are cut back to the ground
each spring.
Toxicity.-The milky sap that is characteristic of poinsettia
is quite irritating to the skin of susceptible persons. The sap
has also been used as a depilatory. The fresh leaves and stems
are reported to be somewhat poisonous if eaten.

Description.-Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana L.) (Fig. 19)
is a robust herbaceous plant growing 6 feet or more in height
from thick, fleshy roots. The stems, simple below, are much
branched above. The stem and branches are smooth and colored
green or purple. The lower leaves are a foot or more long, grad-
ually diminishing until the upper ones are about 3 inches. All
are spear-shaped. The flowers, produced all summer, are white,
less than 1/, inch across, borne in narrow clusters several inches
long. The flattened, purple-black, juicy berries are 1/3 to Y2 inch
in diameter and contain several seeds.

Florida Agricultural Extension Service

Fig. 19.-Pokeweed.

Poisonous Plants Around the Home

Habitat and Distribution.-Pokeweed occurs all over Florida.
It is most often found in open hammocks and along their mar-
gins, but it is also frequent on neglected, cultivated land, along
fence-rows, around dumps or trash piles, and occasionally in
Toxicity.-Pokeweed contains a toxic alkaloid and also a toxic
substance called phytolaccotoxin. All parts of the plant, princi-
pally the berries and roots, are considered toxic. Cases have
been reported in which children were poisoned by eating the
berries and roots of the plant. The young spring leaves have
been used as greens after thorough boiling and discarding the
first water.
Symptoms occur about 2 hours after the plant has been con-
sumed. Severe gastric-intestinal irritation occurs. Nausea, vom-
iting, purging, retching, spasms and severe convulsions occur,
with death resulting from paralysis of the respiratory organs.

Description.-Top primrose (Primula obconica Hance) (Fig.
20) is a winter-flowering greenhouse ornamental plant with
leaves growing in a dense rosette. Individual leaves are nearly
round or rounded oblong, 2 to 4 inches long, blunt at the tip and
heart-shaped at the base. They are slightly hairy all over with
the margins uneven, wavy and roughened with tiny teeth. The
leaf stalks are 2 to 3 inches long. The flowering stems, 2 to 6
in number, arise from the center of the rosette of leaves and are
4 to 8 inches tall, reaching well above the leaves. The pale pink
to rose-colored flowers are produced in a whorl or cluster of 5
or more at the top of the flower stalk. The individual circular
flowers are about .3 inch in diameter, flat and have a lobed mar-
gin. Behind each flower there is a green collar or calyx.
Habitat and Distribution.-The primrose is a home or green-
house plant. It is not grown in Florida but many specimens are
imported from the North by florists and sold during the spring
months. When in flower, most of them are presented as get-well
gifts to hospital patients or house-bound convalescents.
Toxicity.-The glandular hairs on the stems and leaves con-
tain primin, a contact irritant. Handling primrose plants re-
sults in an itching dermatitis in some individuals (about 6 per-
cent of the population). The irritation resembles ivy-poisoning
but is usually less severe.

Florida Agricultural Extension Service

Fig. 20.-Primrose.

Description.-Glossy privet (Ligustrum lucidum Ait.) (Fig.
21) is a shrub or small tree, 5 to 25 feet tall. The older stems
are gray to gray-brown and roughened with numerous raised
lenticels. The leaves are opposite on slender stalks, ovate, longer
than wide, acute or tapering at the tip and pointed at the base.
They are dark green above and paler beneath. The small white
4-parted flowers are produced in erect pyramidal clusters up to
10 inches long at the ends of new growth in summer. These are
followed by heavy drooping clusters of blue or black fruits cov-
ered with pale waxy bloom.

Poisonous Plants Around the Home

Fig. 21.-Privet.

Habitat and Distribution.-Glossy privet originated in the
Orient but is now widely planted in Florida. It is frequently
used as a base planting around homes and occasionally as a
specimen plant. Some horticultural forms have the foliage varie-
gated with white or yellow margins or markings.
Related Species.-Japanese privet (Ligustrum japonicum
Thunb.), with denser foliage, is more common than glossy privet.
It is widely used for hedges. The flower clusters are much
smaller and it bears very few, but similar, fruits. Several other
kinds of privet also are planted on home grounds but none of
them are common.
Toxicity.-Records of poisoning by privet seem to be rare
in the United States, but in Europe children have died from
eating the fruits. The toxic agent is not positively identified.

Description.-Tree tobacco (Nicotiana glauca Graham) (Fig.
22) is a shrub or small tree 10 to 15 feet tall. The trunk is

34 Florida Agricultural Extension Serviee

Fig. 22.-Tree tobacco.

Poisonous Plants Around the Home

slender and the upright branches tend to be flexible, slender and
green in color. The elliptical leaves 2 to 6 inches or more in
length are light or grayish green in color due to the thin, waxy
coating on both surfaces. They are slightly leathery in texture
and quite persistent. The tubular flowers are erect or drooping
and borne in open clusters or panicles. The individual flowers,
1 to 2 inches long, are yellow or greenish yellow and only slightly
flared open at the end. These are followed by egg-shaped seed
pods about 1/ inch long.
Habitat and Distribution.-Tree tobacco is a native of South
America but is planted occasionally in Florida, more as a curi-
osity than as an ornamental plant. The appearance of tree
tobacco differs widely from that of the commercial kinds of to-
Toxicity.-Tree tobacco, like other tobaccos, contains the
alkaloid, nicotine, but this species also contains anabasine. Cat-
tle are reported to have been poisoned by this plant in California,
Australia and South Africa.

Description.-The tung-oil tree (Aleurites fordi Hemsl.)
(Fig. 23) is a small deciduous tree with smooth bark, mucilagi-
nous sap, thick twigs and horizontal branches often produced
in whorls. The leaves are alternate, long-stalked and simple.
The leaf-blades, 5 to 10 inches long, are broadly ovate, sharp-
pointed, and often exhibit an additional point on each side of the
tip; margins are entire and bases broad, sometimes rounded.
The leaf-stalk bears 2 reddish or brownish glands or small knobs
close to the leaf-blade. The flowers are produced in large clusters
at the tips of the twigs in spring before the leaves appear. They
are about 1 inch in diameter, consist of 5 to 7 pale pink or white
petals, with deep brownish-red lines running lengthwise, and
have reddish brown bases. The flowers are of 2 kinds, several
pistillate (female) flowers and many staminate (male) flowers
occurring in the same cluster. The fruits, produced on drooping
stalks several inches long, are nearly globular, 2 to 3 inches in
diameter and dark green, later turning brown. Each fruit con-
tains 3 to 7 large, hard, rough-coated seeds with white flesh.
Habitat and Distribution.-The tung-oil tree, native of China,
has been planted extensively in northern and western Florida as
a source of oil. Stray seeds have produced trees along fence-

Florida Agricultural Extension Service

rows, on roadsides, and in other locations near tung orchards.
It is sometimes planted as a shade tree in the yard.
Toxicity.-The foliage, sap and fruit, as well as commercial
tung meal, contain a toxic principle, a saponin, which character-
istically induces gastro-enteritis in animals to which they are
fed. Cases of tung poisoning have occurred in humans, particu-
larly from eating the nuts. A severe gastro-enteritis develops
with resultant mild to violent purging. Such cases should be
treated symptomatically under the direction of a physician.

Fig. 23.-Tung.

Description.-Yellow-oleander, lucky nut or tigerapple (The-
vetia peruviana Schum.) (Fig. 24) is a shrub or small tree with
a dense crown. The short trunk is widely branched with the

Poisoious Plants Around the Home

branches dividing into numerous smaller branches to form a
dense, rounded top. The alternate dark green leaves are nar-
row, 3 to 6 inches long, about 1/4 inch wide, glossy above and
paler beneath. The yellow to dull-orange flowers are produced
in small clusters near the tips of the twigs. Each flower, 2 to 3
inches long, is tubular but flares out into 5 lobes. The fruits are
somewhat triangular in shape, attached to the middle of one side,
making them wider than long or thick. They are fleshy and
green, turning yellow and finally black at maturity. The "seed"
or stone, pale brown or tan in color and shaped much like the
fruit, is frequently carried as a good luck piece. It contains 2

Fig. 24.-Yellow-oleander.

Habitat and Distribution.-Yellow-oleander is native in trop-
ical America but has been introduced into most of the subtropical
regions, including Florida. Only occasional specimens are found
north of Orlando. It is planted as a specimen ornamental in

38 Florida Agricultural Extension Service

gardens, parks and home grounds. Although it is commonly
called yellow-oleander, the plant is not a true oleander.
Toxicity.-All parts of yellow-oleander are poisonous if
eaten. The poisonous materials in the plant include the gluco-
side, thevetin, and cardioton (digitaloid). The kernels or seeds
from the nut contain a potent insecticide. All parts of the plant
are unpalatable and not likely to be eaten freely except by chil-
dren. Adults have been poisoned by eating the seeds out of

(The illustrations in this circular were prepared from living specimens
by Esther Coogle, formerly artist and assistant in research, College of

Erdman West, better known as "Mr. Botanist" at the
University of Florida, died August 26, 1965, after a
lingering illness.
As a botanist and mycologist with the Florida Agri-
cultural Experiment Stations, he built up a national
reputation for his uncanny ability to glance at a speci-
men and dictate a full-page letter in answer to questions
posed by a homeowner. He was equally adept at shar-
ing his wealth of knowledge with researchers and the
plant industry.
He taught botany to hundreds of University of Florida
Mr. West served the public well from 1927 when he
came to Florida until his retirement in 1964.
His greatest achievement was building up the Agri-
cultural Experiment Stations Herbarium that now con-
tains 149,256 plant items. Among his most well-known
publications are "Poisonous Plants Around the Home"
and "The Native Trees of Florida."
Professor West was born of English parents in Glen-
side, Pennsylvania, January 6, 1894.

Did you know...

Did you know, that there are many chal-
lenging and rewarding careers for graduates
of the College of Agriculture?

* As the scope of the
agricultural industry has '
broadened, so has the
scope of agricultural ed-
ucation. Whether you're
interested in a career in A
business or service related
to agriculture or technical
agriculture, the College of
Agriculture has the in-
struction you need.

There's a career

in agriculture for you

For further information, write
Office of the Dean
College of Agriculture
University of Florida
Gainesville, Florida