Pictures of poisonous plants can help you to identify vegetation, berries, etc. that shouldn't be eaten. But this list extends beyond the narrow definition of “toxicity” to include weeds that cause rashes on contact. As you browse this list and photos, you'll also find information about beneficial weeds: natural remedies that help counteract the itching caused by a couple of noxious weeds. Always consult with medical professionals when you suspect that you've wound up on the wrong... end of an encounter with poison (in any form)!
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Bittersweet nightshade (Solanum dulcamara) is a very common weed and especially dangerous to have around kids, as they're attracted to its brightly colored berries. Yet relatively few parents would be able to identify bittersweet nightshade on their property. Also learn information about the vines more widely recognized as "bittersweet" (but which are quite distinct from bittersweet nightshade).
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Related to bittersweet nightshade (and equally toxic) is the Chinese lantern plant (Physalis alkekengi), commonly grown by crafts enthusiasts. The initial color of the pods' husks is green. This color changes to yellow late in the summer. By fall, it is a rich orange. The colorful pods can be used in dried floral arrangements, wreathes, etc.
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If you live in the country in eastern North America, you may have some mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) growing wild in your backyard. Cultivars of mountain laurel are also sold at nurseries, including the beautiful Minuet laurel. Like mountain laurel, azaleas and rhododendrons (Rhododendron spp.) belong to the heath family and are toxic. Don't let pets nibble on any of these shrubs.Continue to 5 of 15 below.
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Castor bean (Ricinus communis) is a tropical plant widely grown as an annual in northern climates, often as a potted plant for patios, decks, or porches. The leaves, stalk, and seed-heads are all attractive. The laxative, castor oil is derived from castor bean plants, but so is the deadly toxin, ricin.
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The entries listed so far are all toxic if eaten. But in the case of some other plants, all you have to do is touch them to be exposed to their toxicity, and the result will be a rash. Poison sumac (Toxicodendron vernix) and poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) are examples. The former gives all sumac shrubs a bad name, despite the fact that most are quite harmless and beautiful in fall.
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What makes poison ivy toxic? It's an oil called, "urushiol." Urushiol's rash-inducing property has inspired a song, a DC Comics villain, and great fear in people walking in the woods.
How can nature be so unfair as to hold this menace over our heads when we're simply trying to enjoy the great outdoors? Well, as if to balance things out, nature has also given us jewelweed (Impatiens capensis).
Jewelweed is also called, "touch-me-not," but not because it's toxic. Rather, jewelweed is considered a natural remedy for poison ivy rash. Like poison ivy, jewelweed is very common: Both could very well be growing in your backyard. It's easy to identify jewelweed, once you recognize its flower: It's cornucopia-shaped, with a distinct little "tail."
It is more difficult to identify poison ivy because there's no pretty flower to help you out (just a dull, insignificant bloom).Continue to 9 of 15 below.
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"Easter" lilies (Lilium longiflorum) is a misnomer for these toxic trumpets. You can thank the workers at a greenhouse somewhere for your being able to inhale their heady perfume at Easter in cold climates. The workers had to take great pains to trick them into blooming at what is, truth be told, really out of season for them.
Thus many Easter lily recipients in the North who decide to take a crack at growing them outside are disappointed when next spring rolls around and they don't bloom. The fact is, you cannot expect Easter lilies to bloom outdoors for you much earlier than when most of the other popular lilies flower (July), such as Lilium Stargazer.
If only this were our greatest concern in growing Easter lilies, though. More problematic is that they are deadly toxic to cats, as are Stargazer lilies.
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Like poison sumac and poison ivy, stinging nettles (Urtica spp.), as its name suggests, is not a plant you want to brush up against when working out in the yard. Your skin will burn with a painful itch for a short time after contact with its rash-inducing spines. Don't confuse stinging nettles with dead nettles, a perennial used as a ground cover in shady areas.
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The ASPCA lists yellow dock (Rumex crispus) as being toxic to dogs. Like jewelweed, however, yellow dock (or "curly" dock) is a medicinal plant that can be used to counteract the discomfort caused by one of the toxic entries included on this page. Just as jewelweed soothes the itch caused by poison ivy rash, yellow dock is a weed that can soothe skin inflamed by stinging nettles. Just roll one of the fresh, green leaves of dock between thumb and forefinger, to crush it into a juicy pulp; then rub it on your burning skin. Dock is easy to identify late in the season. The mature flower head of a yellow dock plant looks like coffee grounds after its blooms have dried and assumed a brown color.
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Lantana camara bears colorful flower clusters and is commonly used as an annual by gardeners in cold climates in hanging pots. Growers in warmer climates are familiar with lantana as a shrub, where this vigorous grower may even be invasive. But its invasiveness is not the only issue that comes with growing lantana: The berries can be fatal if eaten.Continue to 13 of 15 below.
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Lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis) is a traditional wedding flower. And why not? Its flowers are bell-shaped (think "wedding bells"), fragrant, and white (think "innocence"). From the landscaping perspective, though, we might not want to push that innocence thing too far: Lily-of-the-valley is invasive. And if you have children playing in the yard, it poses another problem: It is a poisonous plant. Learn to identify it and make sure that this common ground cover is not growing in your yard (unless fragrance trumps toxicity and invasiveness for you).
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Some plants have an indication that they are poisonous right in their names: "bane." Whenever you see that word in a plant name, it's a dead giveaway that the plant is toxic. Here are some examples:
- Wolfsbane, also called "monkshood" (Aconitum)
- Leopard's bane (Doronicum orientale)
- Fleabane (Erigeron)
- Henbane (Hyoscyamus niger)
Then there's baneberry (Actaea), which comes in both a red and a white form. If its toxicity isn't enough to scare you, stare into the "doll's eyes" of the white form. They are quite spooky.
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Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) was once a much valued herb that has now fallen from grace. It is a perennial that is often grown simply for its golden flowers, which are numerous and look like cute little buttons. But growers of livestock fear it as a poisonous plant. You, too need to be aware of its toxic qualities if you have kids, dogs, or cats that play out in the yard. Not only should they not nibble on tansy, but even brushing up against it can give some people a rash.