Identifying 15 Common Poisonous Plants

Illustration of types of poisonous plants to know

The Spruce/Catherine Song.

There are many poisonous plants in the world, and some may even be present in your backyard. Pictures of poisonous plants can help you to identify vegetation and berries that should not be touched or eaten.

Warning

Always using care and discretion when eradicating toxic plants; the safest option is to hire professionals rather than trying to do the work yourself.

Here's how to identify common types of poisonous plants.

  • 01 of 15

    Bittersweet Nightshade (Solanum dulcamara)

    Colorful bittersweet nightshade berries.

    The Spruce / David Beaulieu

    Bittersweet nightshade is a very common weed and is especially dangerous to have around kids, as kids are attracted to its brightly colored berries. Relatively few people can identify bittersweet nightshade on their property. It is often confused with American bittersweet and Oriental bittersweet plants.

  • 02 of 15

    Chinese Lanterns (Physalis alkekengi)

    Chinese lantern pods in three colors.
    G.N. van der Zee/Getty Images

    Related to bittersweet nightshade (and equally toxic) is the Chinese lantern plant which is 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 are used in dried floral arrangements and wreaths.

  • 03 of 15

    Foxglove (Digitalis spp.)

    foxglove

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    Foxgloves are tall, flowering biennials that grow well in a spot with dry shade. They bloom with multiple tubular, often freckled, flowers that form on a spike in colors ranging from purple to white. But they are among the most toxic specimens commonly grown on the landscape.

  • 04 of 15

    Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia)

    Minuet laurel has reddish-pink flowers.
    David Beaulieu

    If you live in the country in eastern North America, you may have some mountain laurel 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.

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  • 05 of 15

    Castor Beans (Ricinus communis)

    Castor bean plant

    Guenter Fischer/Getty Images

    Castor bean 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.

  • 06 of 15

    Yew Shrubs (Taxus spp.)

    Yew shrub with berry.

    IMS68/Pixabay

    Yew bushes can be grown in sun or shade. This plant's shade tolerance gives landscape designers an important option in challenging areas. But its fleshy, bright-red berries contain a seed that is toxic. The needle-like leaves are also poisonous.

  • 07 of 15

    Poison Sumac (Toxicodendron vernix)

    Fall foliage of poison sumac shrubs.

    The Spruce / David Beaulieu

    Both the leaves and berries of poison sumac are poisonous to the touch. The poison sumac gives all sumac shrubs a bad name, despite the fact that most are quite harmless and beautiful in fall. Poison sumac has leaves made up of 5 to 13 leaflets (always an odd number), a red stem, and white oddly-shaped berries.

  • 08 of 15

    Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans)

    Poison Ivy
    Ed Reschke/Getty Images

    Poison ivy's poisonous quality comes from an oil called urushiol. While the leaves are the most toxic part of the plant, contact with any part (even when the plant is bare of foliage) of the plant should be avoided.

    Continue to 9 of 15 below.
  • 09 of 15

    Easter Lily (Lilium longiflorum)

    Easter lily flower

    The Spruce / David Beaulieu

    "Easter" lilies is a misnomer for these toxic trumpet-shaped flowers. 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 out of season. In fact, gardeners in northern climates cannot expect Easter lilies to bloom outdoors much earlier than July when most of the other popular lilies flower. More problematic is the fact that Easter lilies are a deadly poison to cats, as are Stargazer lilies.

  • 10 of 15

    Stinging Nettles (Urtica spp.)

    Closeup of leaves of stinging nettles.
    Judith Haeusler/Getty Images

    Like poison sumac and poison ivy, stinging nettles, as its name suggests, is not a plant you want to brush up against when working out in the yard. Don't confuse stinging nettles with dead-nettles, a perennial used as a ground cover in shady areas.

  • 11 of 15

    Yellow Dock (Rumex crispus)

    Close up of yellow dock

    byrev/Pixabay

    The ASPCA lists dock as being toxic to dogs. 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.

  • 12 of 15

    Lantana (Lantana camara )

    Lantana plant flowers.

    sylviaestock/Pixabay

    Lantana 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 are extremely poisonous.

    Continue to 13 of 15 below.
  • 13 of 15

    Lily-Of-The-Valley (Convallaria majalis)

    Lily-of-the-valley plant

    Happynut/Pixabay

    Lily-of-the-valley is a traditional wedding flower. Its flowers are bell-shaped (think "wedding bells"), fragrant, and white (think "innocence"). From a landscaping perspective, though, lily-of-the-valley is a problem because it is invasive. Despite its appearance, lily-of-the-valley is a poisonous plant.

  • 14 of 15

    White Baneberry (Actaea)

    White baneberry with its pinkish-red stems.

    The Spruce / David Beaulieu

    Whenever you see the word "bane" in a plant name, chances are excellent that the plant is toxic. Baneberry, an herbaceous perennial that belongs to the buttercup family, comes in both a red and a white form. If its toxicity is not enough to scare you, stare into the spooky "doll's eyes" of the white form.

  • 15 of 15

    Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare)

    Closeup of flowers of tansy plant.

    sola deo gloria/Getty Images

    Tansy 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. It's toxic to people and animals, too, and shouldn't be eaten or touched.

Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Safe and Poisonous Garden Plants: Toxic Plants (by Scientific Name). University of California.

  2. Digitalis purpurea. NC State Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox.

  3. Toxic Plant Profile: Rhododendron and Azalea. College of Agriculture and Natural Sciences, University of Maryland.

  4. Salihu, Bolaji & Gana, A.K. & Apuyor, B.O. Castor oil plant (Ricinus communis L.): Botany, ecology and uses. Int J Sci Res. 3, 1333-1341, 2014. 

  5. Yew and Paclitaxel. National Capitol Poison Center.

  6. Poison Ivy, Oak and Sumac: When does the Rash Appear? American Academy of Dermatology Association.

  7. Lovely Lilies and Curious Cats. U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

  8. How to Identify Iowa's Poisonous Plants. Iowa Dept. of Natural Resources.

  9. Toxic and non-toxic plant list - dogs. Aspca.org. https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control/dogs-plant-list

  10. Stegelmeier, Bryan L., Field, Reul, Panter, Kip E. Hall, Jeffrey O. et al. Selected Poisonous Plants Affecting Animal and Human Health. Haschek and Rousseaux's Handbook of Toxicologic Pathology (Third Edition). vol 2, 2013. doi:10.1016/B978-0-12-415759-0.00040-6

  11. Lily of the valley is very poisonous. National Poison Control Center.

  12. Tansy Ragwort (Senecio jacobaea). USDA Agricultural Research Service.