Poisonous Plants of the Southern United States

buttercup.jpg (57508 bytes)buttercup
Ranunculus abortivus and other species

Low annual or perennial herbs from fibrous roots or thickened rootstocks or bulbs often with a basal rosette of leaves. Stem leaves alternate, simple, lobed or divided. Flowers usually axillary and solitary with five green sepals and five glossy yellow petals which give the plant its common name, buttercup. Fruit a head of achenes. Potentially poisonous buttercups occur throughout south; most common in low, moist areas along creeks, in open woods and pastures.


This plant contains an irritant oil called protoanemonin. This oil is not a highly toxic substance and is present in various species of buttercup in differing amounts. In general, the flowering plant contains more toxin than the younger plant. The toxin is present in the stems and leaves.


All livestock. Signs of abdominal pain, severe diarrhea, convulsions and death. Milk from affected cows will be bitter and may be reddish in color. Although buttercup poisoning is uncommon, it will occasionally be seen, especially in cattle when other forages are in short supply.


Non-specific. Give purgatives initially, then gastrointestinal protectives later.


greatlaurel.jpg (52392 bytes)great laurel
Rhododendron maxima

Very similar to R. catawbiense but flowers white, leaves larger and narrowed to base whereas R. catawbiense leaves are rounded to base. Distribution is also similar but occurs mostly in well drained sites above 3,000 feet whereas R. maxima is mostly below 3,000 feet and along stream banks and in moist woods.

rosebay Rhododendron catawbiense

Shrub or densely branched, small tree 1 to 3 in tall. Leaves alternate, leathery, evergreen, entire, lanceolate to elliptic, 8 to 15 cm long, 3 to 7 cm wide. Flowers showy, pink to purple, 1.5 to 2 cm long, in terminal clusters. Found almost exclusively in the mountains of Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia; mostly on rocky slopes and on ridges sometimes called "hog-backs."


There are many species of laurels and most are considered poisonous. The toxic principle is called andromedotoxin, which is a white carbohydrate material. Some of the laurels also contain a glucoside of hydroquinone.

Poisoning can occur at any time of the year but is more commonly seen in the early spring or in wintertime when snow covers other vegetation. Sheep, goats, and cattle are commonly affected by grazing all portions of the plant, but particularly the leaves. Deaths have also been recorded in humans and in sheep.


Symptoms include vomiting, bloating, salivation and abdominal pain as evidenced by straining. Eventually the animals become weak, stagger and become prostrate. Occasionally, pneumonia is present due to inhalation of rumen contents into the lungs during vomiting.


Use sound judgment in treatment. For instance, don't drench or otherwise orally medicate animals that are vomiting or showing excessive swallowing movements. Inhalation pneumonia may result. Veterinarians may be able to pass a large bore stomach tube to relieve bloat or perform gastric lavage. Intravenous fluids, such as glucose and saline solution may be helpful.

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