There are thousands of toxic plants in the world, and some may even be present in your backyard. These pictures of common toxic plants in North America can help you to identify vegetation that can be dangerous if touched or consumed. The level of toxicity varies widely but care should be taken before planting or handling these 15 examples.
Always using care and discretion when eradicating toxic plants; the safest option is to hire professionals rather than trying to do the work yourself.
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Bittersweet nightshade is a very common woody weed and is especially dangerous to have around kids because of the brightly colored berries. The highest level of toxicity for humans and animals comes if the berries are consumed but all parts of the plant (bark, leaves, sap) are toxic. The rapidly-growing vine is often confused with American bittersweet and Oriental bittersweet plants.
02 of 15
Related to bittersweet nightshade, the Chinese lantern plant leaves and fruit is toxic. Commonly grown by crafts enthusiasts, the initial color of the fruit's husk is green. This color changes to yellow late in the summer and by fall, it is a rich orange. The colorful pods are used in dried floral arrangements and wreaths.
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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. Resistant to deer and rabbits, if consumed by humans, their flowers, leaves, roots, and stems are among the most toxic specimens commonly grown on the landscapes.
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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. Mountain laurel, azaleas, and rhododendrons (Rhododendron spp.) belong to the heath family and the bark, sap, leaves, and flowers are toxic.Continue to 5 of 15 below.
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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.
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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 toxic to humans and animals.
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Both the leaves and berries of poison sumac are toxic. 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 7 to 13 leaflets (always an odd number), a red stem, and white oddly-shaped berries.
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Poison ivy's toxic 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 to prevent a reaction. This also includes smoke if the plants are burned.Continue to 9 of 15 below.
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"Easter" lilies is a misnomer for these trumpet-shaped flowers. You can thank the workers at a greenhouse somewhere for having their heady perfume at Easter in cold climates. The workers had to take great pains to trick them into blooming out of season. Gardeners in northern climates cannot expect Easter lilies to bloom outdoors much earlier than July when most of the other popular lilies flower. While the sap of the stems and leaves can be toxic to humans, Easter lilies and Stargazer lilies are more problematic as a they are very toxic for cats.
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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, leaves, and sap are toxic.Continue to 13 of 15 below.
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Lily-of-the-valley is a traditional wedding flower. Its flowers are bell-shaped, fragrant, and white. From a landscaping perspective, lily-of-the-valley can become a problem because it is invasive. Despite its delicate and romantic appearance, lily-of-the-valley is toxic in large amounts.
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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.
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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 toxic plant. It's toxic to people and animals, too.
Solanum dulcamara L. United States Department of Interior.
Safe and Poisonous Garden Plants: Toxic Plants (by Scientific Name). University of California.
Digitalis purpurea. North Carolina State University Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox.
Azaleas and Rhododendrons: Identify and Manage Problems. University of Maryland Extension.
Salihu, Bolaji, Gana, A.K., Apuyor, B.O. Castor oil plant (Ricinus communis L.): Botany, ecology and uses. International Journal of Science and Research, vol. 3, pp 1333-1341, 2014.
Yew and Paclitaxel. National Capitol Poison Center.
Poison Ivy, Oak and Sumac: When does the Rash Appear? American Academy of Dermatology Association.
Lovely Lilies and Curious Cats. U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
How to Identify Iowa's Poisonous Plants. Iowa Dept. of Natural Resources.
Rumex crispus (Curled Dock). North Carolina State University Extension Gardener Toolbox.
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
Lily of the valley is very poisonous. National Poison Control Center.
Baneberry. University of Wisconsin Division of Extension: Horticulture.
Tansy Ragwort (Senecio jacobaea). USDA Agricultural Research Service.