Poisonous Plants of the Southern United States

pokeberry.jpg (58207 bytes)pokeberry
Phytolacca americana

Perennial herb, to 3 m tall, often with many stems from large fleshy rootstock. Stems green to purplish, fleshy, smooth. Leaves alternate, light green, lanceolate, 8 to 30 cm long, 3 to 12 cm wide, glabrous, margins entire. Flowers white to purplish in drooping axillary racemes. Ripe fruit black, juicy, many seeded, when mashed produces a red "ink." Distributed throughout the south; most common on waste ground, fence rows, pasture and old home sites. Young leaves often used as cooked green; older leaves quite poisonous.


The poisonous principles are oxalic acid and a saponin called phytolaccotoxin. In addition, alkaloids may also be present. The root of the plant is the most toxic portion, although all other parts of the plant contain smaller amounts of the toxic principles. Cattle, horses, swine and man have all been poisoned after consuming this plant. Recognizable clinical cases are rare, however. Swine are most often affected since they often grub up the roots.

Poisoning occurs during spring, summer or fall. In the springtime humans commonly cook the leaves and consume them. This "poke salad" is generally considered safe if the water in which the leaves are cooked is poured off.


The most commonly observed symptom is a severe gastroenteritis with cramping, diarrhea and convulsions. Postmortem lesions include severe ulcerative gastritis, mucosal hemorrhage and a dark liver. In most cases the animal recovers within 24-48 hours.


Gastrointestinal protectives and sedatives are suggested.


jimsonweed.jpg (47004 bytes)jimsonweed
Datura stramonium

Coarse, foul-smelling, glabrous annual, .5 to 1.5 m tall with green or purple-tinged stems. Leaves alternate, coarsely and irregularly toothed, 7 to 15 cm long, 2 to 12 cm wide. Flowers large, white to lavender, tubular, 7 to 10 cm long. Fruit an erect, dry, spiny capsule 2.5 to 4 cm long, 2 to 3.5 cm wide, with many black, shiny seeds. Distributed throughout the south but most abundant in fertile fields, gardens and barn lots.


The toxic principles of this common hog lot and barnyard plant are the alkaloids atropine, hyoscyamine and scopolamine. All parts of the plant are considered poisonous, whether green or dry. However, the seeds are particularly poisonous. Usually, this plant is not eaten except when other forage is unavailable. Cattle and swine are primarily affected but horses, poultry, dogs and humans have been affected. Cows can be poisoned by consuming one-half to one pound of the green plant.


Early symptoms include a weak and rapid pulse and heartbeat. The eyes are widely dilated, the mouth and other mucous membranes are dry and animals may appear blind. Later, slow breathing may be observed as well as lowered temperature, convulsions or coma.

After eating the plants, sheep have been observed to have abnormal leg movements, disturbed vision, intense thirst and to bite at imaginary objects in the air.

Pregnant sows consuming jimsonweed during their second and third months of gestation have produced deformed pigs. Some pigs may be born alive but exhibit varying degrees of flexed hips, stifles and forelegs. The hocks may be overextended.


Non-specific. Weeds should bet destroyed in order to prevent problems.

Table of
Ye Olde Library
Card Catalogue