Poisonous Plants

Written by Melia Ortiz, ESLLC 2016-2017

Everyone loves a good hike and spending time in nature, right? That said, caution should be taken while out in the wild. It is important to know about plants that pose potential dangers when they come in contact with skin or are eaten. Poisonous plants are natures subtle way of reminding humanity who is really in charge. This is by far not a comprehensive list, but here are some common poisonous plants found in the United states.

Poison Ivy

“Leaves of three, let them be.” Poison ivy can be found in nearly all US states, and can cause a lot of discomfort to anyone who allows the plant’s urushiol oil to get on their skin. Poison ivy can grow as a vine or bush and can be identified by its sets of three glove shaped leaves. It is important to keep in mind that poison ivy oils can stay on your clothes, shoes, and gear for years, so it is vital to wash everything that may have come in contact with poison ivy. Poison ivy oils cause itchy rashes that usually develop 12 to 72 hours after contact and last 1 to 3 weeks.


Poison Oak.

Poison oak is a leafy shrub that can grow up to 6 feet. It can be found in the US along both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts. Its leaves contain the same urushiol oil that poison ivy leaves do, so the skin irritation will be the same as with poison ivy. Like poison ivy, poison oak leaves grow in sets of three. Poison oak leaves are scalloped and resemble the shape of oak tree leaves.


Poison Sumac

Poison sumac is yet another urushiol containing plant. It is more toxic than poison ivy and poison oak, and could be considered among the most toxic plant species in the US. Poison sumac is generally found it wetland areas of eastern United States. It grows as a woody shrub or small tree and can grow up to 30 feet.


Stinging Needle

The stinging needle plant grows in nearly all US states, but is most abundant in the western United States. Stinging needle is edible and is often used to make teas, however the plant will cause irritation when it comes in contact with skin. Stinging needle grow 3 to 7 feet tall and has toothed leaves and small greenish brownish flowers. Touching the bottom or edges of the leaf will cause painful and itchy skin blistering.


Water Hemlock

Water Hemlock is a perennial plant with small white flowers that grow in umbrella like clusters. It grows in wet meadows and pastures and along stream banks, and it can be found Rocky Mountains and along the Pacific coast. Its stem contains cicutoxin which can cause tremors, muscle weakness, seizures, respiratory failure, and even death.


Jimson Weed

Jimson weed, also known as devil’s snare, is a freely branching herb that forms a bush that can grow up to 5 feet tall. Its flowers are trumpet shaped and are white, cream, or violet. Jimson weed prefers sunny, hot, drier climates, and it can be found in nearly all US states. When ingested, jimson weed is a potent hallucinogen.



Oleander is a flowery shrub that grows 6 to 12 feet tall, with red, purple, yellow, pink, or white flowers. It grows on the west coast and in southern states. They are commonly used as a landscape plant because the grow fast and are easy to care for, however they are highly toxic and invasive. The plants sap can cause skin irritation. Ingestion can cause nausea, stomach pain, dizziness, headache, halos, weakness, and confusion, and can sometimes lead to death.


Castor Bean

The castor bean plant has large lobed glossy leaves and pink spiky pods that contain the beans. This beautiful plant is commonly grown in gardens. They are safe to the touch, however, all parts of the plant are toxic when ingested. The plant contains ricin which is absorbed by the stomach and intestine causing abdominal pain, diarrhea, dehydration, weakness, dullness of vision, inflammation, and comas.



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