Poisonous Plants of the Southern United States

sicklepod.jpg (40478 bytes)sicklepod
Cassia obtusifolia

Coarse, annual herb, .4 to .5 m. Leaves alternate, pinnately compound with 4 to 6 obovate leaflets; largest leaflets 3 to 5 cm long. Flowers yellow, 1 to 1.5 cm. long, 1 or 2 in axillary clusters. Pods splitting along two lines, sickle-shaped,.3 to.4 cm wide, 10 to 20 cm long, many seeded. Reportedly found throughout the south but more abundant on sandy soils of coastal plain; most abundant in cultivated fields, roadsides, waste places and open pinelands.


coffee senna Cassia occidentalis

As shown on the left, is an annual weed very similar to C obtusifolia but having mostly 8 or more leaflets rather than 4 to 6. Pods flattened while on C obtusifolia they are nearly four-sided. Pods tend to be straighter and shorter than those of C obtusifolia.


The toxic principles have not been clearly established. The seeds appear to exert their toxicity upon the skeletal muscles, kidney, and liver. The leaves and stem also contain toxin, whether green or dry.  Sicklepod is much more prevalent but somewhat less toxic than coffee senna. Animals can be poisoned by consuming the plant in the field, in green chop, in hay or if the seed is mixed in grain. Toxicity has been observed in cattle. It should be assumed that other animals are susceptible to the effects of these plants.


Diarrhea is usually the first symptom observed. Later, the animals go off feed, appear lethargic, and tremors appear in the hind legs, indicating muscle degeneration. As the muscle degeneration progresses, the urine becomes dark and coffee-colored and the animal becomes recumbent and is unable to rise. Death often occurs within 12 hours after the animal goes down. There is no fever.


Once animals become recumbent, treatment is usually ineffective. Selenium and Vitamin E injections have been used with variable results.


sesbania.jpg (53514 bytes)sesbania
Sesbania exaltata

Annual herb, .7 to 2 m tall, becoming quite woody at base. Leaves alternate, even pinnately compound; leaflets 20 to 70, oblong to linear elliptic, 1 to 3 cm long, entire. Flowers yellow, often streaked with purple, to 1.5 cm long, borne in axillary clusters of 2 to 6 flowers each. Pods linear, 10 to 20 cm long, 3 to 4 mm broad, 30 to 40 seeds. Found mostly in coastal plain Virginia to Florida to Texas; most abundant along ditches, on stream banks, low fields, and waste places.



The poisonous principle is a saponin that is toxic to livestock and humans. The seeds are the most toxic part of the plant and are consumed in the late summer, fall, or winter when other forage is scarce. Cattle are often affected when moved into new pastures containing the plant. It has been observed that cattle often develop a craving for the seeds.


The cattle are often found dead. An opened rumen may reveal the sprouted seeds and there will be a hemorrhagic inflammation of the abomasum and intestines. Symptoms are variable and include hemorrhagic diarrhea, although constipation has been recorded. The animals walk stiffly with an arched back, have shallow respiration and a weak rapid pulse. They become prostrate and comatose before death.


Symptomatic. Insertion of a stomach tube and administration of intestinal protectives are suggested in severe diarrhea. If constipated, give mineral oil by the same route. Intravenous fluids are helpful in dehydrated animals.

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