Cicuta maculata L.—Water hemlock; cowbane; beaver poison
FAMILY: Umbelliferae (Apiaceae)—The Umbel Family
This group consists of herbs with flowers: usually regular and perfect, in a simple or compound (most common) umbel; stamens: 5, inserted on a disk: styles: 2; ovary: 1, inferior; leaves: alternate or basal, the petiole sometimes bearing a basal sheath.
PHENOLOGY: Water hemlock flowers June through August.
DISTRIBUTION: Found in marshes, swamps, ditches, streams, and marshy meadows and pastures.
PLANT CHARACTERISTICS: Flowers are in compound umbels; sepals: triangular; petals: white; stem: glabrous, jointed with hollow internodes, base of stem swollen and transversely partitioned; root: tuberous; leaves: pinnately compound with well-defined leaflets; leaflets: linear to lance-ovate, 3-10 cm long; primary lateral veins in the leaflets are directed to the crotch of the teeth; umbels: numerous, 5-12 cm wide.
POISONOUS PARTS: All parts are extremely poisonous. A piece of root the size of a pea is sufficient to kill a human. A piece of root the size of a walnut will kill a cow in fifteen minutes, and about 1 lb of dried plant may kill a horse.
SYMPTOMS: Usually within 1/2 hour after ingesting a lethal dose the following symptoms occur: excessive salivation, then tremors and spasmodic convulsions with intermittent relaxation (the convulsions are extremely violent). Abdominal pain is evident, pupils are dilated, and temperature may be several degrees higher than normal. Humans may become delirious. Nausea and vomiting occur if the animal can vomit. Bloating is common. Additional symptoms include diarrhea, irregular pulse and heart rate, and behavioral abnormalities such as rolling of the eyes, turning in circles, twisting of the neck, falling down, and opening and shutting of the mouth. Death is due to respiratory failure after complete paralysis. Postmortem: gross and histological lesions: no obvious changes.
POISONOUS PRINCIPLE: Cicutoxin, a highly unsaturated alcohol, is responsible for poisoning. It is usually associated with the yellowish, oily liquid located in the lower stem and roots.
CONFUSED TAXA: Young plants of elderberry, Sambucus spp. (Caprifoliaceae), resemble water hemlock. The leaves are opposite in elderberry and alternate in water hemlock. Elderberry may be mildly toxic. A cyanogenic glycoside, as well as an alkaloid, are present in elderberry leaves, flowers, berries, and particularly the roots. In moderate amounts these substances are purgative. Fresh berries are paradoxical--harmless when cooked but sometimes producing nausea when uncooked. Postmortem evaluation of elderberry toxicosis reveals bright red blood characteristic of cyanide poisoning.
SPECIES OF ANIMALS AFFECTED: All species of animals and humans are affected by cicutoxin.
TREATMENT: (11a)(b); (26); Convulsions can be controlled by parenteral, short-acting barbiturates.
OF INTEREST: Cattle have been poisoned by drinking water from an area where water hemlock roots were trampled.
Back to top
FAMILY: Ascomycetes—the Ascomycete Family
"Sac fungi" produce spores in asci, or sacs. Some economically important fungi in this family include yeast and the edible morels. Each ascus produces a definite number of spores, usually eight, and the fungal threads have cross walls (septae) with a central perforation. The fungi are responsible for Dutch elm disease, Chestnut blight, and a variety of human lung disorders as are all ascomycetes.
OCCURRENCE: Claviceps parasitizes the ovary of grasses, especially rye, wheat (durum is mostsusceptible), barley, and some wild species. Infection occurs when host flowers begin to open.
DISTRIBUTION: Ergot occurs on pasture land grasses or hay and cereal grains from cultivated fields.
POISONOUS PARTS: The poisonous part is the sclerotium (ergot body), a grain-shaped mass that replaces the grass ovary. This varies in size from the same as the grain to 4 times larger. The fungal mass, homogeneous and white when cut open, is shed with the grass and acts as the overwintering phase of the fungus. Federal law prohibits use of cereal grains containing more than 0.3% sclerotia by weight.
SYMPTOMS: Two syndromes are produced by ingestion: 1) gangrenous and 2) convulsive. Ingestion of small amounts daily over a short period results in necrosis of tissues in the extremities, producing dry gangrene. Gangrene is caused by constriction of the blood vessels with blockage of circulation. This results in lameness, coldness, and insensitivity to pain of the affected part. In some instances, serum seepage can cause secondary infection, which may be associated with nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and constipation or diarrhea. Pregnant animals spontaneously abort. Mucus membranes of the oral cavity may be inflamed or damaged. In humans gastrointestinal distress and headache may be present. Fowl may lose their combs and beaks. Convulsive ergotism results from ingestion of large quantities of ergot. In addition to the above syndrome, nervous symptoms appear, which are characterized by hyperexcitability, paranoia, rapid pulse, and belligerence. In livestock, death may result from dehydration or starvation within a few days or a month. In humans, whole body spasms and delirium may be present.
Postmortem: gross lesions: dry gangrene of ears, limbs, and tail; moist gangrene of feet and phalanges; inflammatory zone between gangrenous and living tissue; visceral organ congestion and hemorrhage may be present; histological lesions: dry gangrene shows coagulated blood, bacterial infection; moist gangrene shows coagulation and liquefaction necrosis in which large bacilli are evident.
POISONOUS PRINCIPLES: Alkaloids, amines, and other organic compounds are present in ergot. The antihemorrhagic alkaloids probably are the major problem. Chemical formulas are known for two dozen alkaloids, derivatives of lysergic acid. Compounds include ergocryptine, ergocornine, ergocristine, ergotamine, ergosine, and ergonovine.
CONFUSED TAXA: Identification of parasitic fungi should be made by trained specialists.
SPECIES OF ANIMALS AFFECTED: Ergotism in animals other than cattle and humans is rare.
TREATMENT: (11a)(b); (26)
OF INTEREST: The scientific and herbal literature contains much material on ergot, including the natural history and biology of the fungus, chemistry and physiology of its alkaloids, disease symptoms, and use of ergot in medicine. The mode of action of ergot is to stimulate smooth muscle. Because of the persistent contraction of smooth muscle blood vessels, dry gangrene of the extremities occurs.
The infection of grain seed heads by fungus is not uncommon. Cultivated barley, Hordeum vulgare L.. is subject to infection by Gibberella saubinetti (imperfect stage is Fusarium graminearum) and becomes toxic to certain species of animals. The severity ranges from vomition and listlessness in pigs to no apparent effects in ruminants.
Festuca arundinacea Schreb. (=F. elatoir var arundinacea (Schreb.) Wimmer) may cause ergotlike poisoning in livestock, especially cattle (horses appear to be immune). The toxicosis may be due to parasitic fungus rather than the grass itself. The cattle disease "fescue foot" resembles gangrenous ergotism. Postmortem: gross lesions: edema followed by necrosis, distal to a line of demarcation, in extremities; extremities dry, shriveled, and separate; histological lesions: arterioles at the coronary band have thickened walls and constricted lumens.
Back to top
Codiaeum variegatum (L.) Blume—Variegated laurel; croton
FAMILY: Euphorbiaceae—the Spurge Family
This family of worldwide distribution contains many genera. Economically the family is very important for ornamental plants and for providing rubber, edible roots and fruits, and medicinals. Poisonous properties are also common in members of this family.
Plants in the Euphorbiaceae are diverse in appearance. Generally, flowers: regular, hypogynous, and unisexual; calyx: present or absent; petals: usually absent; stamens: 1 to many, sometimes with branched filaments; ovary: superior, usually 3-celled; fruit: a capsule splitting into 3, 1-seeded sections. Plants are often succulent and cactuslike with milky or watery juice.
The type genus, Euphorbia, has a compact inflorescence called a cyathium, a structure simulating a complete flower. The individual "flower" is actually a floral-cluster, usually consisting of 1 female with a single pistil and several male flowers each with one stamen, all on a jointed pedicel. The flowers of the cyathium are enclosed in a cuplike involucre, which often contains glands and appendages and may be subtended by brightly colored bracts (e.g the red "petals" of a poinsettia "flower'').
PHENOLOGY: Codiaeum are house plants used in interior decorating. Under optimal conditions, they may flower indoors in our northern climate.
DISTRIBUTION: Crotons are grown under glass around office and home for their colored ornamental foliage. These plants are native to the Malay Peninsula and Pacific Islands.
PLANT CHARACTERISTICS: Codiaeum has the following characteristics; leaves: alternate simple, rarely lobed, leathery, glabrous, petioled, and variously colored; and flowers: small, in axillary racemes.
POISONOUS PARTS: Leaves, stems, and flowers are considered potentially poisonous. Some species in the genus are edible; young, yellow varieties eaten in the East Indies are reported to be sweet. House plant varieties contain irritant juices that may be noxious or allergenic. Croton juices are used medicinally as purgatives, abortifacients, sudatories, and antitussives.
SYMPTOMS: Digestive upset results from ingestion. Allergic reactions may occur upon contact.
POISONOUS PRINCIPLES: The toxins are currently unidentified. Some plants may contain caustic latex. The plant sap also contains 6-8% tannin.
CONFUSED TAXA: The common name croton (genus Codiaeum) should not be confused with the genus Croton. Plants in the former genus are glabrous, whereas in the latter they bear stellate pubescence.
SPECIES OF ANIMALS AFFECTED: Because the variegated laurels are house plants, probably only children and pets are potentially at risk.
TREATMENT: (11a)(b); (26); (1)
OF INTEREST: Many members of this family are moderately to severely poisonous. Croton, mentioned above, is occasionally encountered in dry, sandy soil and waste places in Pennsylvania. It is known to contain acrid, irritant principles.
Back to top
Colchicum autumnaleL.—Autumn crocus
FAMILY: Liliaceae—the Lily Family (see Amianthium)
PHENOLOGY: The white to light-rose or light-purple flowers appear in the fall.
DISTRIBUTION: Autumn crocus is cultivated around homes and in gardens. It rarely escapes and becomes naturalized.
PLANT CHARACTERISTICS: The flowers of Colchicum are chalice-shaped, with stamens: 6; and styles: 3, long and slender. The large leaves appear in the spring with the previous season’s seed-pod and die back during summer.
POISONOUS PARTS: All parts are toxic, especially the bulb and seeds. Leaves are toxic at about 0.1 % of an animal's weight.
SYMPTOMS: Toxicosis includes vomiting; purging; weak, quick pulse; gastrointestinal irritation; burning pain in mouth, throat, and stomach; and kidney and respiratory failure.
POISONOUS PRINCIPLES: The alkaloid colchicine and related compounds are responsible for poisonings.
CONFUSED TAXA: Spring crocus (Crocus) of the family Iridaceae can be confused with Autumn crocus. Crocus has 3 stamens and 1 style with 3 stigmas, whereas Colchicum has 6 stamens and 3 styles.
SPECIES OF ANIMALS AFFECTED: Children have been poisoned by eating the flowers; poisoning has been reported in all classes of livestock.
TREATMENT: (11a)(b); (22); (26)
OF INTEREST: The alkaloid is heat-stable and therefore not inactivated by high temperatures such as the ensilaging process. Livestock have been lost on ingestion of hay containing Colchicum. Milk from a lactating animal can poison the nursing offspring. The alkaloid is used medicinally as a gout suppressant, in the treatment of Familial Mediterranean Fever, in veterinary science as an antineoplastic, and in genetic research.
Other cultivated members of the Liliaceae are known or suspected to be poisonous Tulip ( Tulipa spp.) bulbs cause severe purgation in cattle. Hyacinth (Hyacinthus spp.) bulbs, if eaten in quantity, produce gastrointestinal upset, severe purgation, diarrhea, vomiting, and cramps. During World War II, bulbs were fed to cattle in the Netherlands, producing violent gastric reactions.
Still other Liliaceae of concern are: dogtooth violet (Erythronium spp ) - bulbs known to poison poultry; bunchflower (Melanthium spp ) - may poison sheep, cattle, and horses; fritillaria (Fritillaria meleagris) - contains a heart-depressant alkaloid; and squills (Urginea maritima) - bulbs contain cardiotonic glycosides having digitalis-like action.
Additionally, some edible members of the Liliaceae have been reported to produce toxicosis. Cultivated onions (Allium cepa L.), chives (Allium schoenoprasm L.), and wild onion (Allium canadense L.) produce compounds known to be toxic in large quantities; wild garlic (Allium vineale L.) also is suspect. Symptoms may include anemia and intense gastroenteritis. When death follows, the animal tissue and even the necropsy room are permeated with onion odor. The compounds allicin and alliin, known to have antimicrobial properties, may be involved. Cultivated asparagus (Asparagus officinalis L.) is reported to have killed dairy cattle upon ingestion of mature plants. The red berries of asparagus are eaten both raw and cooked but because some individuals are sensitive to the berries, this practice is to be discouraged.
Back to top
Conium maculatum L. —Poison hemlock; spotted hemlock; deadly hemlock; poison parsley
FAMILY: Umbelliferae (Apiaceae)—the Umbel Family (see Cicuta)
PHENOLOGY: Poison hemlock flowers June through September.
DISTRIBUTION: It is found in disturbed or waste areas such as roadsides and the edges of cultivated fields.
PLANT CHARACTERISTICS: Diagnostic features include, stem: purple-spotted, glabrous, and branched, up to 3 m tall; leaves: pinnately decompound, 2-4 dm long and toothed; flowering umbel: 4-6 cm wide (umbels are numerous); fruit: broadly ovoid, about 3 mm, laterally constricted; petals: white.
POISONOUS PARTS: All parts of Conium maculatum are extremely poisonous. Some studies reveal toxicosis at 0.25% (green-weight basis) of a horse's weight; 0.5% for a cow's. In contrast, experimental feeding studies on a cow showed symptoms at 2% of the animal's weight and produced death at about 4%.
SYMPTOMS: The symptoms, in order of appearance are: nervousness, weakness, trembling, ataxia, dilated pupils, weakened and slow heartbeat, drowsiness, nausea, vomiting, coldness in extremities or the entire body, labored respiration, paralysis, asphyxia, coma; death is due to respiratory failure. In animals the symptoms usually begin in the hind or lower extremities. The feces may be bloody and accompanied by gastrointestinal irritation and convulsions. Congestion of the respiratory tract is common. Symptoms occur within an hour after ingestion. Death is not always imminent. Abortion may result in pregnant animals. Milk from cows that have eaten Conium has an offensive flavor. Postmortem: gross lesions: widespread, passive congestion of lungs, liver, and nutrient myocardial vessels; histological lesions: cattle show severe mucoid or hemorrhagic enteritis.
POISONOUS PRINCIPLES: Gamma-coniceine, coniine, N-methylconiine, conLydrine, lambbaconiceine, and pesudoconhydrine. Toxicity levels vary with the stage of growth (time of year), plant part, and the plant's geographic location. The Conium alkaloids are similar in structure and function to nicotine. Gamma-coniceine appears to be the major alkaloid in the vegetative stage. Flowers and immature fruit contain coniine and N-methylconiine. In mature fruit the alkaloid is N-methylconiine. The root contains the least amount of toxins; mature seeds contain the greatest. It has been shown experimentally that the toxic principles in a plant vary even from hour to hour.
CONFUSED TAXA: Numerous members of the Umbelliferae superficially resemble Conium. Occasionally water-hemlock (see Cicuta) is confused with it. Cicuta has leaves organized into distinct and separate leaflets of uniform shape, often more than 2 cm wide. Conium has dissected leaves with the divisions under 1 cm wide. Conium can be confused with Daucus carota L. (Queen Anne's lace, wild carrot), which has distinctly hairy stems, petioles and leaves; poison hemlock stems are glabrous.
SPECIES OF ANIMALS AFFECTED: Humans and all species of livestock.
TREATMENT: (11a)(b); (20); (6); (2); short-acting barbiturates.
OF INTEREST: The odor of the plant, described as "mousy," may be detected on the breath and urine of animals that have eaten the plant. The drug coniine hydrobromide, derived from this plant, is used as an antispasmodic.
Back to top
Convallaria majalis L.—Lily-of-the-valley
FAMILY: Liliaceae—the Lily Family (see Amianthium)
PHENOLOGY: Lily-of-the-valley flowers in May.
DISTRIBUTION: This cultivated plant frequently persists around foundations and is naturalized in some areas.
PLANT CHARACTERISTICS: The familiar lily-of-the-valley produces a one-sided flowering stalk of fragrant, white, nodding, bell-shaped flowers. The fruits ripen into red berries approximately I cm in diameter.
POISONOUS PARTS: All parts including pips (underground structures), flowers, fruits, and leaves are poisonous.
SYMPTOMS: No reliable reports of livestock losses exist in the literature. There is, however, laboratory-confirmed toxicity. The plant has digitalis-like action (see Digitalis), including heart arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) and gastrointestinal upset.
POISONOUS PRINCIPLES: More than 20 cardiac glycosides, including convallarin and convallamarin, are known to be produced by this plant.
CONFUSED TAXA: Plants are distinct enough not to be readily misidentified.
SPECIES OF ANIMALS AFFECTED: Potentially all; livestock and humans are susceptible to the toxins; a report of toxicity to fowl is undocumented.
TREATMENT: (11a)(b); (19); (26).
OF INTEREST: The drug, convallatoxin, from the blossoms, is used as a cardiotonic. The dried rhizome, known as Convallaria root, has also been used as a cardiotonic and diuretic. In veterinary science it has been used as a diuretic and cardiac stimulant.
Back to top
Crotalaria sagittalis L.—Rattlebox
FAMILY: Fabaceae (Leguminosae)—the Bean Family
Legume plants are easily recognized by the familiar flowers, typified by garden beans and peas. The flowers are irregular and 5-merous; calyx: if prolonged into a tube, often irregular; corolla: consisting of 5 petals, the upper (standard) exterior and generally larger than the others; the lateral 2 petals (wings) are exterior to the 2 lowest petals (keels), which enclose the stamens and style; stamens: typically 10, their filaments all fused or 9 fused and one free; fruit: a 1-celled pod. dehiscent along both sutures, characteristic of the family.
PHENOLOGY: Rattlebox flowers throughout an extended period from June to September.
DISTRIBUTION: Occurs on dry open soil, waste places, and dry forest clearings.
PLANT CHARACTERISTICS: Crotalaria sagittalis is a small plant growing to less than half a meter tall, with spreading hairs; leaf stipules: decurrent on the stem; leaves: simple, entire, sessile, lanceolate flower on the stem to linear toward the top, 3-8 cm, to l.5 cm wide; inflorescence: 2-4 flowered racemes; flowers: yellow standard, 8 mm; stamens: 10, filaments fused; fruits: oblong, sessile pods, 2-3 cm. very inflated, when dry the seeds rattling in the pods; seeds: flat, kidney-shaped, brown beans, 2.5 mm long.
POISONOUS PARTS: The herbage and seeds are considered toxic. Monocrotaline is present in the entire plant.
SYMPTOMS: Livestock show signs of stupor, labored breathing, weakness, emaciation, paralysis, and death. Postmortem: gross lesions: hemorrhage, petechiae, or large ecchymoses; organ congestion; abomasum, omasum, and gallbladder are edematous; cirrhosis of liver in prolonged cases; histological lesions: pulmonary changes, including emphysema, alternate with atelectasis and hemorrhage.
POISONOUS PRINCIPLES: The toxin is probably the pyrrolizidine alkaloid monocrotaline. The additional alkaloids, fulvine and cristpatine, have been isolated and identified as macrocyclic esters of retorsine, which is also a toxic factor in the composite genus Senecio (see Arctium).
CONFUSED TAXA: Lupines (Lupinus spp.) resemble rattlebox. In lupine the fruit is flattened rather than inflated, and the leaves are palmately compound instead of simple (see Lupinus).
SPECIES OF ANIMALS AFFECTED: Generally horses pastured on land containing Crotalaria sagittalis will show symptoms. One percent of the animal's body weight fed over two days causes death. In one study cattle fed on hay toxic to horses were not affected.
TREATMENT: (11a)(b); (26); possibly treatment with crystalline methionine.
OF INTEREST: Crotalaria sagittalis is more commonly encountered in the southeastern quarter of the Commonwealth. Related species require warmer climates than Pennsylvania provides.
Back to top
Daphne x Burkwoodii Turril 'Somerset'—Daphne
Daphne mezereum L.—Mezereum
FAMILY: Thymelaeaceae—the Mezereum Family
Two genera of the mezereum family occur in Pennsylvania, with Dapane being a poisonous member. Uncommon in the Commonwealth, it occasionally is grown as an ornamental, either in landscaping or under glass. Some members of the genus are evergreen (southern states); a few are deciduous and cold-hardy. Nurseries and garden centers in Pennsylvania sell Daphne x Burkwoodii 'Somerset'. It is not known whether this species is poisonous. The data provided below have been accumulated from research and case studies of mezereum (D. mezereum). This species, one of the finest and most easily cultivated of the daphnes, may be available in Pennsylvania nurseries.
PHENOLOGY: Somerset daphne, D. x Burkwoodii flowers in mid-May, whereas D. mezereum produces blossoms in mid-March, April, or early May.
DISTRIBUTION: Somerset daphne is a cultivated landscape plant; mezereum is cultivated but has escaped to roadsides, thickets, and old lime quarries in the New England states. It is not known as an escaped plant in Pennsylvania.
PLANT CHARACTERISTICS: Daphne x Burkwoodii is a cross between D. caucasia Pall. and D. Cneorum L. The flowers are sweetly fragrant, freely produced, and creamy white to pinkish tinged. It is a shrub, slightly taller than one meter, evergreen or partially so in protected areas, and deciduous in harsher ones. Inf1orescence: crowded with 6-16 flowers in terminal clusters, 5 cm wide surrounded by foliage leaves; flowers: 1-1.5 cm wide; fruits: red.
Dapane mezereum is a deciduous shrub, 1-2 m tall; flowers: very fragrant, 1-1.5 cm wide, produced from the buds of leafless stems in spring, grouped in 2's or 3's; fruits: scarlet-red or yellow, 7-10 mm wide, mature in June.
POISONOUS PARTS: All parts are poisonous, especially the "berries" (drupes).
SYMPTOMS: Toxicosis includes local irritation, burning or ulceration of mouth and digestive tract, vomiting, bloody diarrhea, internal bleeding, weakness, coma, and death.
POISONOUS PRINCIPLES: The toxin daphnin has been isolated. Drupes contain a glycoside; the aglycone is dthydroxy-coumarin.
CONFUSED TAXA: There are about 50 species of deciduous or evergreen shrubs in the genus. Cultivated plants with alternate, simple, entire leaves and cylindrical calyx tube with 4 spreading lobes forming the conspicuous part of the flower probably are Daphne.
SPECIES OF ANIMALS AFFECTED: Humans develop symptoms upon consumption of small quantities of daphne. Children have died from eating only a few drupes.
TREATMENT: (9); (11a)(b); (26)
Back to top
Datura stramoniumL.—Jimson-weed; moon-lily; thornapple; Jamestown weed
FAMILY: Solanaceae—the Nightshade Family
The Solanaceae is a large family of plants with simple, alternate leaves. In our taxa, the flowers are: bisexual, 5-merous; calyx: persistent; corolla: rotate, funnelform, or salverform, 5-lobed; stamens: 5, borne on the corolla, one or more often appearing different from the rest; ovarv: superior, mostly 2-celled; ovules: many in each cell; stigma: 2-lobed; fruit: a berry. A distinguishing feature is the corolla, which is plicate in bud.
PHENOLOGY: Datura flowers June through August.
DISTRIBUTION: Jimson-weed occurs over the entire state, usually as an inhabitant of dry soil and waste places, dumps, abandoned fields, and in cultivated crops, especially soybeans and corn.
PLANT CHARACTERISTICS: This is an annual plant, 1.5 m tall with a pungent, "heavy" scent, often branching in two equal forks; leaves: 2 x 1.5 dm, with a few teeth; calyx: strongly angled in cross section (prismatic) and narrowly 5-winged; petals: fused into a tube, white, opening in cloudy weather or evenings, 7-10 cm long; seed pod: 3-5 cm, ovoid, with prickles, opening by 4 valves.
POISONOUS PARTS: All parts are poisonous, especially seeds and leaves. Lethal dosages for cattle may be 10-14 oz (0.06-0.09% of the animal's body weight). It is estimated that 4-5 g of leaf or seeds would be fatal to a child.
SYMPTOMS: In the past several years Datura is one plant reported by the U.S. National Clearinghouse for Poison Control Centers as the cause of death. Overdose can occur from excessive ingestion of the herbal medicine Stramonium U.S.P. by accidental poisonings, or intentional ingestion for illicit drug use. Symptoms vary in time of appearance (a few minutes for decoctions to several hours for ingestion of seeds). They include intense thirst, visual disturbance, flushed skin, and central nervous system hyperirritability. Victims become delirious, incoherent, and perform insensible antics. Heart beat may be rapid with elevated temperature. Subjects may be prone to violence, hallucination, convulsions, coma, and death. Ingestion of small amounts produces symptoms; larger amounts, death. Symptoms in livestock approximate those in humans. Postmortem: gross and histological lesions are nonspecific.
POISONOUS PRINCIPLES: Solanaceous alkaloids (tropane configuration) including atropine, hyosayamine (isomeric with atropine), and hyoscine (scopolamine). Datura alkaloids are useful in medicine. Total content of alkaloids in a plant may be high, varying from 0.25-.0.7%. Concentration varies in different parts of the plant, during various stages of development, and under varied growing conditions. The alkaloids are fewer following a rainy period than during clear, dry weather, and concentration decreases during the day but increases at night.
CONFUSED TAXA: Two other species, equally poisonous, may be encountered in the Commonwealth. One is Datura meteloides DC., with larger flowers (l2-20 cm) that open later in the season (July-October). In this species the calyx tube is circular in cross section. Another taxon is D. metel L., a European species rarely found in the state.
SPECIES OF ANIMALS AFFECTED: Humans, horses, cattle, sheep, hogs, mules, and chickens are susceptible. Human poisonings are more commonly reported. Animals generally avoid the plant probably because of the intense, pungent smell that is emitted when it is crushed.
TREATMENT: ( 11a)(b); (26); (6); (17).
OF INTEREST: American Indians utilized this plant for medicinal and religious purposes. Carlos Castaneda frequently refers to its use in his series of books on the Yaqui Indians (The Teachings of Don Juan and others). Soldiers sent in 1676 to quell the Bacon rebellion at Jamestown, Virginia experienced mass poisoning due to this plant; hence, the common name Jamestown weed.
Because of the hallucinogenic properties of deadly Datura, Europeans learned to boil and incorporate plant extracts into fats or oils. These extracts were rubbed on the skin or orifice areas (rectum, vagina) to induce hallucinogenic "flights from reality". Witches during the Middle Ages would anoint a staff (e.g. broom) to apply these compounds; thus, the development of the traditional witch/broom/night flight symbol still seen, especially around Halloween.
Back to top
Delphinium spp.—Larkspur; delphinium
FAMILY: Ranunculaceae—the Buttercup Family (see Actaea)
PHENOLOGY: Two species of Delphinium are encountered in Pennsylvania. Delphinium exaltatum Ait. flowers in July and August; D. tricorne Michx., in April and May.
DISTRIBUTION: Delphinium occasionally occurs in rich woods.
PLANT CHARACTERISTICS: The genus Delphinium has: irregular flowers; calyx: resembling a corolla; sepals: 5, unequal, blue, purple, or white, the upper one prolonged backward into a spur; petals: 4, the upper two inequilateral, each with a long spur extending into the spurred sepal, the lower two clawed, abruptly deflexed at the middle; stamens: numerous; pistils: 1-5; fruit: a follicle; leaves: palmately cleft.
POISONOUS PARTS: The seeds are highly toxic; the young foliage is less poisonous. Toxicity decreases with age of the plant. At flower-bud formation, Delphinium is half as toxic as in the juvenile stage, and at fruit maturation it is reduced to one-sixteenth. Poisoning in the post-flowering stage, prior to seed formation, is uncommon. Toxicity also varies from species to species.
SYMPTOMS: The alkaloids produce digestive disturbance, nervousness, weakness, uneasiness, depression, collapse, muscle spasms, and death by asphyxiation. In larkspur poisoning, nausea, bloating, and abdominal pain may be present. Postmortem: gross lesions: congestion of internal organs (especially kidneys and superficial vessels); histological lesions: acute catarrhal gastroenteritis with diffuse venous congestion.
POISONOUS PRINCIPLES: Numerous diterpenoid alkaloids are found in the genus, including delphinine, delphineidine, ajacine, and others. The dried ripe seeds of Delphinium contain calcatripine, as well as volatile oil, gum, resin, fixed oil, gallic, and aconitic acids Poisoning from percutaneous absorption may occur from excessive handling,
CONFUSED TAXA: Delphinium exaltatum has erect follicles, nontuberous roots, and bifid lower petals. Delphinium tricorne is a tuberous-rooted perennial with entire lower petals and divergent follicles.
Consolida ambigua (L.) Ball and Heywood (=Delphinium Ajacis L.) is an introduced annual larkspur flowering in the summer. It has one pistil and petals united into one, whereas Delphinium has 4 petals. Toxicity and symptoms are identical to Delphinium.
Aconitum spp. may be confused with Delphinium but lack the spurs. Aconitum has a solid, pithy stem and short-petioled leaves, whereas larkspurs have hollow stems and long-petioled leaves. Aconitum contains the toxin aconitine, which is highly poisonous. Symptoms include violent diarrhea and vomiting, muscular spasms and weakness, respiratory failure, convulsions, and death. Symptoms appear within a few hours after consumption of flowers, leaves, roots, or seeds.
SPECIES OF ANIMALS AFFECTED: Humans and most classes of livestock are affected by delphinium alkaloids. Sheep appear much less susceptible than cattle.
TREATMENT: (lla)(b); (5-2mg subcutaneously); (27); (6); for poisoned animals subcutaneous injections of physostigmine salicylate, pilocarpine hydrochloride. and strychnine sulfate in the rates 1 grain, 2 grains, and 1/2 grain respectively per 500-600 lb animal.
OF INTEREST: Seed extracts are used as a pediculicide in the treatment of head lice.
Back to top