Earth's abundance of flora and fauna often seems perfectly suited for people with its multitude of fruits, vegetables, and other edible vegetation, but Mother Nature isn't always so kind. Throughout Earth's history, its vegetation has created defensive mechanisms to ward off potentially harmful insects or predators, including the human race. From a beautiful ornamental plant to a group of deadly perennials, these are our top picks of deadly plants.
Aconitum napellus is more commonly referred to as Monkshood, Wolfsbane, and Aconite, but has several other names associated with it. Indigenous to western and central Europe, it has relatives in Asia and North America that are fairly similar, but is now considered as separate species. Regarded as a group of perennials, with a thick black root stock, stems that traverse 3 feet or 1 meter high, leaves are glossy dark green and spikes of hooded flowers. All parts of this plant are poisonous, containing aconite and aconitine, of which aconitine is thought to be the prominent toxin. Symptoms include restlessness, profound weakness followed by collapse, distorted heart beats and weak pulses, and shallow respiration. Substantial doses can cause instant death, including ingestion and absorption through broken skin or open wounds.
Little Apple of Death
The manchineel tree, commonly known also as Poison Guava, is native to Florida, the Caribbeans, the Bahamas, and parts of Central and South America. It predominately grows along the coastal beaches, reaching 50 feet or 15 meters in height, has bright green leaves, and a single or paired yellow-red sweet-scented, applelike fruit. The fruit from this tree has become known as "Manzanilla de la muerte" or "Little apple of death", but isn't the only aspect of the tree that is harmful to humans. The manchineel is so poisonous that smoke from burning its wood irritates the eyes, and latex from its leaves and bark cause skin inflammation. One incident with four tourists seeking shelter from the rain, hide underneath a manchineel resulting in dermatitis and painful blistering. The toxicity of these trees is a concoction of several chemical compounds hard to isolate, but has been used by the Carib Indians to poison their arrows for decades.
The Suicide Tree
Cerbera odollam grows in swamps and marshy areas across India and southeast Asia and is stated by toxicologists to be used by people to commit suicide more than any other plant. This large shrub or small tree reaches approximately 33 feet or 10 meters in height, has glossy green leaves and white flowers with a yellow throat. It has a fruit that looks like a small green mango that covers an oval shaped seed that contains the toxin, cerberin. Cerberin binds to and inhibits the sodium-potassium pump in the body, causing the heart to contract much harder than it needs to, leading to arrhythmia. The increase in potassium could lead to hyperkalemia, which is similar to the injection of potassium chloride used for lethal injections in the United States. In addiction to the cardiac effects, cerberin also causes nausea and vomiting.
Spotted Water Hemlock
Cicuta maculata is endemic to nearly all of North America, from northern Canada to southern Mexico and primarily are found in wet meadows, thickets, or fresh water swamps. It is also known as spotted cowbane, spotted parsley, and suicide root. It is described as umbels of small white flowers topping 6 feet or 1.6 meter tall stems, with fern-like leaves towards the bottom. All parts of the water hemlock are toxic, but its roots, described as distasteful, have higher concentrations of cicutoxin and only takes one bite to cause deadly symptoms in humans. This plant is considered highly toxic, can be fatal if eaten and has a slew of symptoms including muscle spasms, dilated pupils, dizziness, diarrhea, stomach pain, convulsions, cyanosis, coma, and death by asphyxiation.
Abrus precatorius, also commonly known as Rosary pea, is a vine native to India, but can be found in other tropical and subtropical areas in the world. The vine has pods with oval seeds and a hard, glossy shell, while the seeds range in a variety of colors including red, black, orange, or white with black and white centers. All parts of this plant are toxic, with the highest concentrations of abrin found in the seed. Abrin is one of the more potent toxins known to man, as studies have shown that a single seed could cause death. Oral ingestion of whole seeds typically do not produce serious illness unless the protective outer shell is breached. There is no specific antidote for abrin poisoning, and most symptoms include nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, followed in more serious cases with dehydration or death.
Strychnos nux-vomica is also known as poison nut, snake-wood, or Quaker buttons. It is indigenous to Australia and South Asia, including India, Sri Lanka, and the East Indies. The tree has small flowers and orange colored fruits the size of an apple or orange, with five seeds surrounded by a jellylike pulp contained within. The seeds contain the alkaloids strychnine and brucine, with strychnine being extremely poisonous. Strychnine is a powerful central nervous system stimulant that leads to an excitable state, severe muscle spasms, and convulsions. Muscle contractions caused by Strychnine can result in muscle tearing from the bone, causing the body to be twisted into abnormal positions. An overdose will lead to death from exhaustion or cardiac arrest.
Acokanthera oppositifolia, also commonly referred to as Wintersweet, is widespread in southern and central Africa from Cape Province onward north to Zaire and Tanzania. It is a medium to large woody shrub with hard, dark green leaves, clusters of pinkish white, sweetly scented flowers and large plum colored berrylike fruits. Bushman's poison is usually found growing in the shade of other flora and typically avoids drier regions. The milky sap from the plant was widely used by the traditional bushmen combined with other poisons to coat their arrows.
All parts of this plant is highly poisonous, containing cardiac glycoside, except the fruit, which still should not be consumed. Symptoms can include gastrointestinal irritation, abdominal pain, excessive salivation, vomiting, cramping, and diarrhea.
Taxus baccata is native to Britain, but can also be found across much of Europe, western Asia and North Africa. The English Yew is a densely branching, evergreen tree with a massive trunk, reaching heights of approximately 66 feet or 20 meters. Unlike most conifers, the Taxus baccata doesn't bear its seeds in cones, but instead grow alone at the tip of its dwarf shoots encased in a fleshy red aril. All parts, except for the fleshy aril, contain taxin, a poison that has a complex of alkaloids that can be rapidly absorbed. The scary aspect of this poisoning is that it may show no symptoms, with death following within a few hours. Yew is one of the few plants where its poison is not destroyed when detached from its parent plant. Its seeds are highly toxic and if unbroken will pass through the body with relatively no harm, but if its shell is breached, could kill in as little as three seeds if digested.
Actaea pachypoda resides in the eastern United States and parts of Canada within decidious woods and thickets. This medium-sized perennial herb reaches around 20 inches or 51 centimeters high, with thick roots, large leaves, and white flowers that produce red or white berries. This plant is also associated as Red Baneberry, Snakeberry, White Cohosh, or Coral Berry. All parts of this plant, but mainly the roots and berries, are toxic, causing severe pain in the mouth when ingested. Doll's Eye contains glycosides or essential oils that produce severe gastroenteritis, but also has not sufficiently been researched to determine all of its toxic qualities. Symptoms include the burning of the mouth and throat, salivation, severe stomach cramps, headache, diarrhea, dizziness, and hallucinations. Fortunately, like the Angel's Trumpet, large quantities must be eaten before death occurs.
Brugmansia suaveolens, formerly called Datura suaveolens, goes by several nicknames, including Sacred Datura, Hindu Datura, Indian Apple and Thorn Apple. Angel's Trumpet occurs naturally in southeast Brazil, but it is widely grown as an ornamental plant that has been established throughout much of South and Central America, Mexico, and parts of south-central Florida. The plant is noted as having a sweet fragrant, but having an unpleasant taste and is usually consumed in tea for its alleged medicinal benefits or hallucinogenic effects. Symptoms include hallucinations, dry mouth, muscle weakness, increased blood pressure and pulse, fever, dilated pupils, and paralysis. The only saving grace from this plant is that one must consume massive quantities to cause death.