If you’re planning an outdoor adventure, it’s not only cliffs, animals, and insects you should be worried about; Plants envelop the world, and science has even discovered that a large variety of plants can communicate with each other.
When you’re starving in the wilderness, there’s not much you can eat other than plants and animals. Let’s face it, a lot of people are unable to hunt successfully, so they rely on crops to feed themselves. The problem is, some plants can be deadly to humans, or at the very least, make us very sick. You can maybe even find some of these plants in your backyard!
Flowers and plants can be pretty and sometimes even delicious. However, they’ve also evolved with all kinds of compounds within them. Sometimes these compounds don’t play well with the human biology. Whether it’s the seeds, the berries, or the entire plant, you’re going to want to stay away from the ones on this list at all cost!
Some plants can cause heart failure, upset stomach or even lung damage when ingested. In this list, however, we are going to focus more so on poisonous plants you should never touch.
Just to clarify, I’m not only naming plants that you can find in North America. The plants on this list can be found all over the world. These are the most dangerous plants in the forest.
1 – Foxglove
The Foxglove is another common murder plant that people own for some reason. The plant contains digitoxin, which you might have guessed from its name is toxic to humans. However, pharmaceuticals also use Foxgloves as a heart medication, in small doses of course.
Ingesting Foxgloves generally leads to minor symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. More severe symptoms concerning confusion, hallucinations and an irregular heartbeat can occur. Foxgloves can also affect your vision, making things look blurry and yellowish.
It’s thought that Van Gogh might have been experiencing these side effects during what art historians call his “yellow period”. It is possible that he was given a medicine containing digitoxin to help treat his seizures.
Like Dumbcane, fatal cases of Foxglove poisoning are rare, because most people don’t go munching on these plants. It does, however, happen from time to time.
2 – Pong-pong
The Pong-pong is a tree native to southeast Asia and some Pacific islands. This plant is about ten meters tall, and from the outside, it does look like an average plant. There is indeed nothing ordinary about the Pong-pong. Just one seed would be enough to kill a healthy adult.
The Pong-pong seeds contain cerberin, which is similar to digitoxin in the sense that it interferes with normal heart function. It’s thankfully, not easy to ingest the seeds by accident because they have to be removed from the harder husk first.
People who do end up with cerberin poisoning experience stomach symptoms and changes to their heart rhythm; and will often die within a few hours. Makes you wonder why the Pong-Pong is on our list of most dangerous plants in the world huh?
3 – Oleander
The Oleander is another incredibly poisonous plant that affects the human heart. Pliny the Elder wrote about it, way back in the year 77 CE, describing the shrub being deadly to livestock, but can also be a cure for snakebites. Just to be clear, if you ever get bitten by a snake and find some oleander nearby, do NOT eat the Oleander.
The Oleander doesn’t actually work as an antidote to snake venom, and eating it would probably just speed up the whole dying process. Oleander contains a bunch of different poisonous compounds, but the principal one goes by the name Oleandrin, which, once again, interferes with the hearts beat and can eventually be fatal, however, it usually isn’t.
Other symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, plus dizziness, disorientation and blurred vision. So basically Im just saying that you should take your chances with the snake bite and not eat Oleander.
4 – The Dumbcane
The Dumbcane is a common houseplant with a particularly gruesome way of injuring people. They are comfortable to grow and pleasant to look at, but if you eat them, you’ll end up with blisters and swelling in your mouth and throat. These injuries can make it difficult to breathe or speak, hence the name of course.
You also want to keep the sap away from sensitive areas of your body, including your eyes, where it can do the same type of damage as your mouth and throat. The problem mainly comes from tiny crystals of calcium oxalate, an acid that’s a significant component of kidney stones.
The crystals are in the shape of needles that can easily stab through the tissues in your digestive system after swallowing them. Botanists think the needles might also contain enzymes that mess with the proteins in your cells, which help make the swelling and burning worse.
The effects can last upwards of two weeks. These consequences can be fatal if the results are blocking the airways. Luckily, deaths from the Dumbcane are a relatively rare occurrence. But seriously, why would anyone keep this plant in the house?
5 – Hemlock
Hemlock is another poisonous plant that is famous because of ancient writings, including accounts of Socrates’s execution since he was forced to drink a hemlock-based poison.
Some people have also been poisoned by accident since Hemlock can look a lot like the wild parsnip, celery, and carrot plants. Hemlock contains a few different compounds that make it especially dangerous, but the worst of them is probably coniine.
Coniine is a ring of carbon atoms and one nitrogen atom, connected to a chain of carbons. The coniine also interferes with the signals between neurons, and the effects are not pretty. The poison causes dizziness, trembling, slows down the heart rate and can eventually cause paralysis. It can be fatal, because the diaphragm, the muscle that helps control breathing also becomes paralyzed.
In today’s world of modern medicine, if a patient can be on a ventilator to help them breathe until the poison wears off, they’ll be fine.
6 – Nightshade (Atropa Belladonna)
Probably the most natural plant on this list to ingest by accident is deadly Nightshade, because to the untrained eye, its berries might look like blueberries. Ten to twenty berries can be enough to kill an adult.
There’s a reason they call it the Nightshade deadly. The plant contains compounds called atropine and solanine. Atropine is also used as a medication, but not in such high doses, and not in combination with a second deadly poison.
These two chemicals attack the human body in all kinds of ways, which is why deadly Nightshade is another poison that causes practically every symptom possible. Some symptoms include dry mouth, enlarged pupils, diarrhea, stomach pain, vomiting, slow or rapid pulse, shock, slowed breathing, delirium, fever, and hallucinations.
It is possible to build up a tolerance to the Nightshade. History tells us all kinds of stories of assassins who use their tolerance to trick their victims into drinking poison.
7 – Doll’s Eyes (Actaea Pachypoda)
Actaea Pachypoda, more commonly known as Doll’s Eyes, or White Baneberry, is native to the Northern and Eastern Parts of North America; and is not only creepy looking but quite deadly. Although the entire plant is toxic to humans, the berries, which look like little eyeballs, are the most poisonous part.
The concentrated toxins in the fruit have unfortunately killed many children as they not only appear fun to eat but have a sweet taste. Once ingested, the carcinogenic toxins in the fruit have an almost immediate effect, sedating the heart muscles, causing cardiac arrest and a swift death.
The berries are harmless to birds, the plant’s primary seed dispersers.
They ripen in the summer and disappear in the winter. Remember, if you see these in the summer, stay away. If you see a Doll’s Eyes in the winter, they may be a deranged person, and you should leave the area immediately.
8 – Rosary Pea
The Rosary Pea looks innocent enough, but don’t be fooled, this bright red berry on a bush contains one of the most poisonous substances in the world. There’s also no antidote for the Rosary Pea.
This toxic compound is called Abrin. Abrin is what’s known as a ribosome-inactivating protein. That means when it gets into a cell, it stops that cell’s ribosomes from functioning. The problem is, cells need ribosomes because they make proteins. If they fail to make new proteins, cells will stop working.
The potency of the Rosary Pea is deadly, with just one-tenth of a milligram can kill a human adult. Symptoms will most likely set in within the first day and start with the same gastrointestinal problems we’ve been talking about, like nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Eventually, the victim gets to look forward to internal bleeding and organ damage, and them, in almost 100% of the cases, death.
9 – White Snakeroot
White Snakeroot contains a mix of compounds known as tremetol, which gets its name from the trembling it causes. To start feeling the outcomes of death, you would need to eat half a percent to two percent of your body weight to die from eating White Snakeroot.
In the nineteenth century, this shrub filled with small white flowers caused a considerable problem in the American Midwest, where White Snakeroot grows. People were dying, and no one knew what was causing these deaths. It turns out they were dying because their livestock was eating tons of White Snakeroot. Tremetol would end up in the animal’s milk, and then people would die from drinking it, calling it Milk Sickness.
Milk Sickness was Nancy Lincoln’s cause of death in 1818. Nancy Lincoln was Abraham Lincoln’s mother. Eventually, a doctor named Anna Bixby identified the White Snakeroot as the cause of the milk with the help of a local Shawnee woman.
Some people began removing it from farms where their animals grazed, which is why milk sickness is now almost unheard of these days.
10 – Manchineel Tree (Little Apple of Death)
Not only should you avoid eating the Manchineel Tree, but you also shouldn’t touch it, or even go near to it. The chances of coming across a Manchineel Tree are slim since its only found sparingly around the southern American States, Middle America, and South America.
Manchineels contain all kinds of toxins, and we don’t even yet know what they all are. We do know, however, that they cause burning pain and irritation everywhere on the body it comes in contact. The tree’s sap will make human skin burn and blister, even if all you’re doing is standing under it while it’s raining.
Just the smoke from burning a Manchineel Tree is enough to blind someone. If anyone eats the fruit from this tree, they will experience burning, irritation, and swelling of the mouth, throat, and the rest of their digestive tract. The swelling and irritation can be dangerous all on its own, but deaths from eating Manchineel fruits are rare, most likely because people would not keep eating it after the first mouthful.
It’s also hard to get ahold of the Manchineel fruit in the first place because the tree is endangered. We don’t know how much Manchineel fruits or sap it would take to kill a person. As with so many of the other plants on this list, we do know that the process wouldn’t be a pleasant one. Let’s just say that this could be the number one most dangerous plant in the world!
11 – Aconit (AKA Monkshood and Wolfsbane)
For this eleventh most dangerous plant in the forest, have you ever heard of a book called Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone? I’m sure you have. The reason I mention this book is that in Harry’s very first potion lesson, Snape asks him about the difference between Monkshood and Wolfsbane. We later find out that they’re the same plant, also called Aconite, which is true. What the book fails to mention is that this plant is also incredibly poisonous.
The Aconite is highly poisonous because of a complicated looking compound is known as aconitine. Aconitine interferes with the human heart and brain. If you can think of a slew of horrible symptoms, Aconite poising probably causes them.
People who eat Aconite, especially the root or tubers, can end up with muscle weakness, tingling, numbness, irregular heartbeat, low blood pressure, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
The Aconite’s poison is often mentioned as a cause of death in ancient writing, and even these days, about 6% of people who are hospitalized with Aconite poisoning die.
12 – Castor Plant (Ricinus Communis)
Ricinus Communis, known merely as the Castor Plant is native to Eastern Africa and India. In fact, it could very well be in your backyard right now as a decorative plant.
You can purchase Caster plants at just about any garden center, despite their beans containing the deadly poison Ricin. In 2007 it was named the most poisonous plant in the world by the Guinness Book of Wolrd Records.
The ingestion of four to eight seeds will kill a human in two days, which is long, agonizing, and unstoppable. Surprisingly though, research shows that it takes seven seeds to kill a pig, 11 to kill a dog, and a whopping 80 to execute a duck, which raises the critical question, who’s feeding Ricin to animals to procure this sort of data?
13 – Stinging Bush (Dendrocnide Moroides)
Dendrocnide Moroides, more commonly known as the Stinging Bush is native to the forest of Australia and Indonesia. It’s the most deadly and potent stinging nettle in the world. Distinguished for being covered in tiny hairs that deliver a toxin called Morodin.
The species is an early colonizer in rainforest gaps; seeds germinate in full sunlight after soil disturbance. Although relatively common in Queensland, the species is uncommon in its southern-most range and is listed as an endangered species in New South Wales.
Contact with the leaves or twigs causes the hollow, silica-tipped hairs to penetrate the skin. The hairs produce a painful stinging sensation that can last anywhere from days to years, and the injured area becomes covered with small, red spots joining together to form a red, swollen welt. The sting is famously agonizing. Ernie Rider, who was slapped in the face and torso with the foliage in 1963, said:
“For two or three days the pain was almost unbearable; I couldn’t work or sleep, then it was pretty bad pain for another fortnight or so. The stinging persisted for two years and recurred every time I had a cold shower. … There’s nothing to rival it; it’s ten times worse than anything else.” Source Wikipedia
14 – Angel’s Trumpet
Angels Trumpets is a woody shrub that is extinct in the wild. They’re indigenous to tropical regions in South America such as Brazil, Chile, and Venezuela. The Angels Trumpets mainly grow in isolation. Any part of the Angels Trumpet has the potential to be highly poisonous. If someone ingests Angel’s Trumpet, it will result in a wide range of symptoms.
Once Angel’s Trumpet is in your system, specific muscles become paralyzed, and you will commonly experience sweating, an increased heart rate, diarrhea, and vomiting. You’re also likely to experience extreme hallucinations. Both auditory and visually, these illusions have been described as terrifying. While hallucination, people have been known to go into trances and completely lose awareness.
One of the most bizarre examples of such behavior was documented in psychiatry and clinical neuroscience; when a man cut off his penis and tongue after consuming some Angel’s Trumpet. The plants are even known to cause death to many of its victims.
In some cultures, Angel’s Trumpet is used as a form of punishment. Ancient tribes in South America used to force misbehaving children to take the drug believing it will allow their ancestors from the spirit world to speak to them. It’s also in use for medicinal purposes, usually as an extreme treatment. Some cultures, however, have used non-lethal doses to induce vomiting with the intent of expelling worms and parasites from a person’s digestive system.
15 – Tobacco
Tobacco leaves are most commonly used in cigarettes, cigars, and pipes for smoking. Tobacco contains nicotine, a stimulant that is known as being quite addictive. People using Tobacco are often at risk of many health problems; including liver and kidney damages, heart diseases and lung cancer.
The World Health Organization concluded that around 1 million people died from Tobacco use in the twentieth century. While Tobacco itself may not be particularly harmful, there are thousands of chemicals used in the process of making cigarettes which often exacerbates the health side effects.
In addition to lung cancer, tobacco use can lead to stomach cancer, cancers of the mouth and also pancreatic cancer. Tobacco can sometimes cause heart attacks, chronic pulmonary diseases, emphysema, and stroke.
Many children are forced into child labor in countries where tobacco is harvested. Many of these children have suffered from green nicotine poisoning. Green nicotine poisoning is a severe condition in which wet tobacco leaves are absorbed by the skin and can cause severe dizziness, vomiting, and nausea.
If you’re anywhere around the world out in the wilderness, remember this list and stay away from potentially dangerous plants. You just never know when you could come face to face with the most dangerous plants in the forest!