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Poisonous Shrubs Plants And Trees

Dangerous Plants And Shrubs

 It would surprise many people to know that some of their favorite plants and shrubs, the very ones around their children, pets, and livestock —  are also dangerous and poisonous.  Two examples would be the evergreen popular shrubs — the Rhododendron and the Azalea. The leaves are toxic and even honey if made from the nectar of the flower is toxic. It’ll produce vomiting, diarrhea, and an uncomfortable tingling of skin, headache, weakness, and visual blurring. In some cases these bushes can cause both coma and heart problems that lead to death.



A lot of people are more aware that the Oleander can be both beautiful and dangerous. Both the flower and the sap can be poisonous. Even smoke from burning the bushes can cause a trip to the emergency room. There are many tales of ill-informed people using the sticks for Bar-B-Q-ing or using the flowers to decorate party drinks — these are not urban myths, these are real poisonous events. This shrub can cause serious heart events.

There are countless other poisonous shrubs and plants to watch out for, here is a short list of common ones:

  • Barberry
  • Bittersweet
  • Black Locust
  • Chokeberry
  • Elders
  • Elderberry
  • Holly
  • Laburnum
  • Privet
  • Snowberry
  • Spindle
  • Spurge Laurel
  • Thorn-apple (Jimson Weed)
  • Wood Laurel
  • Yew

Let’s Take A Closer Look At Three Dangerous Plants On That List 

The Dangerous Thorn Apple (aka Jimson Weed)

Jimson Weed in full night time bloomThe Thorn Apple is not really a shrub at all, since each year the stalks are laid low by frost. However, it looks so much like a great widely branching true shrub, and it is so dangerous, that it is worthy of mention. 

 Its common name, here in the United States, is Jimson Weed (short for Jamestown Weed). They are so called because soldiers eating its young sprouts near Jamestown, Virginia, in colonial times became delirious and acted as if they were half mad.

 It is also known as:

  • Datura stramonium (its scientific name)
  • Stinkweed
  • Locoweed

Jimson Weed (Thorn Apple) FruitIt has been used in herbal medicines and as an intoxicant for generations. It’s native to the U.S. and found from New England and west into Texas and other parts.  This is because Thorn-applesare while not poisonous to touch, are poisonous when eaten. Large amounts throw the victim into a fatal stupor, but slightest quantities induce delirium. Luckily, the fruit is not very tempting.

The fruit are green, fleshy, ball-like capsules that soon become dry and brown, and are thickly beset by long but not very sharp prickles. It soon splits open downward from the top, usually into four pieces and the thin little black seeds can be plainly seen. These are the most dangerous parts of the plant, and children and adults alike should be warned not to eat them.

Jimson Weed FlowerAlthough, it is also known by the name of Datura. Its unshapely, lobed, dark green leaves, rank in odor and arranged in clusters separated by long spaces of bare stem. The toughness of its branches and above all — its morning-glory-like flowers that bloom at night, and round spiked fruit, make it easily recognized.

An interloper from the tropics, this non-native, thrives on the vacant logs of cities and in rural areas.   There are two common sorts, one bearing exquisitely white flowers. The other blossoms with violet corollas, having purple stems and shades in its foliage

Red As A Beet

I grew up hearing old time sayings as a matter of every day conversation, particularly with one of my grandmothers. The following all apply to Jimson weed:

“Red as a beet” 

“Dry as a bone” 

“Blind as a bat” 

“Mad as a hatter” 

ALL of those quaint turns of the tongue describe the combined effects of Jimson weed. ALL parts of the plant are toxic, none are pleasant (no worry that anyone would be become addicted toJimson weed).  Additionally, with higher doses other symptoms of Jimson weed poisoning includes:

  • Cardiac arrest
  • Dry, flushed, and hot to touch skin
  • Hearing hallucinations
  • Incoherent speech
  • Impaired coordination
  • Rapid heart beat
  • Seizures
  • Visual hallucinations

The Brilliant Berries Of The Bittersweet

Bittersweet covering a whole tree.  Very invasive plant.

Bittersweet covering a whole tree.  Very invasive plant.

A much gaudier climbing shrub is the Bittersweet. It sometimes shares the fence-posts with the poison-ivy.  During the summer one hardly notices the pale vine, as it climbs by twisting its supple branches around trees and other supports.   One will sometimes find small trees in a grove, with a swollen portion around which a welt or groove winds spirally. 

Bittersweet takeover illustration -- Artist: Jerilee Wei

Bittersweet takeover illustration -- Artist: Jerilee Wei

This is a sign that some vine and usually a Bittersweet, has in-wrapped the growing sapling so firmly that it has nearly strangled it, and forced it to grow in an unusual manner, where the vine pinches, just as one’s finger swells about a tightly tied string.  In fall, the orange-colored berries of the Bittersweet split into four portions that bend backward and leave exposed a fleshy scarlet sphere called an aril that covers the seeds.

Bittersweet Berries

Bittersweet Berries

Scarlet and yellow placed together make each hue more brilliant, painters say, and doubtless these gaudy berries catch the eyes of birds, and are carried afield by their means, as are those of the poison-ivy.  Bittersweet, despite being poisonous to humans is often used in landscaping for its beauty.  It can be trained to climb arbors, trellises, ugly fences, and even mature trees.  (Never allow it on young trees because it will kill them).  It’s the seeds that are poisonous to humans.  Birds can freely eat of the Bittersweet, while humans cannot.


ChokecherryAnother dangerous bush is the Chokecherry, which beautiful perennial that bears masses of white flowers. Its fruit are small ripe cherries range in color from purple to black. The leaves are dark green and glossy.  Chokecherry has caused many livestock poisoning during drought conditions and when there is limited native grasses and forage. If cattle or other animals feed too heavily on this tree/shrub it can be a very disastrous situation. Outside of death, livestock can experience, among other symptoms:

  • Severe distress in breathing
  • Blood clotting problems
  • Muscular problems
  • Weakness

If You’d Like To Know More About Poisonous Shrubs, Plants, And Trees

Poisonous Shrubs

Poisonous Plants For Dogs

Poisonous Trees