Identifying 15 Common Poisonous Plants

Illustration of types of poisonous plants to know

The Spruce/Catherine Song.

Pictures of poisonous plants can help you to identify vegetation and berries that should not be touched or eaten. Some weeds can cause rashes on contact. This list includes information about beneficial weeds and natural remedies that help counteract the itching caused by a couple of noxious weeds. No matter what, always consult with medical professionals when you suspect that you have wound up on the wrong end of an encounter with a poison of any kind.


In some cases, especially in individuals with allergies, toxic reactions can be dangerous. Always using care and discretion when eradicating toxic plants; the best 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.)


    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. Do not grow them if small children will be spending time in the yard.

  • 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. Do not let pets nibble on any of these shrubs.

    Continue to 5 of 15 below.
  • 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.


    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, so do not let pets or kids chew on them.

  • 07 of 15

    Poison Sumac (Toxicodendron vernix)

    Fall foliage of poison sumac shrubs.

    The Spruce / David Beaulieu

    Poison sumac can cause a rash if you touch the leaves or berries. It 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 rash-inducing 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) can cause an allergic reaction. The oil is tenacious; if it gets onto your clothing or pet, you can wind up with a rash long after you leave the woods. Jewelweed is considered a natural remedy for poison ivy rash. Like poison ivy, jewelweed is very common; it is easy to identify jewelweed, once you recognize its cornucopia-shaped flower with a distinct little tail.

    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. 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.

  • 11 of 15

    Yellow Dock (Rumex crispus)

    Close up of yellow dock


    The ASPCA lists dock as being toxic to dogs. Like jewelweed, however, yellow dock (or "curly" dock) is also a medicinal plant that can be used to counteract the discomfort caused by stinging nettles. Just roll one of the fresh, green leaves of dock between your 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.

  • 12 of 15

    Lantana (Lantana camara )

    Lantana plant flowers.


    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: its berries can be fatal if eaten.

    Continue to 13 of 15 below.
  • 13 of 15

    Lily-Of-The-Valley (Convallaria majalis)

    Lily-of-the-valley plant


    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. And if you have children playing in the yard, it's important to know that, despite its appearance, lily-of-the-valley 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).

  • 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. 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.

Watch Now: 8 Facts About Poison Ivy You Need to Know

Article Sources
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  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. Should I meddle with a Nettle? New York Botanical Garden.

  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.