Guide to the Most Poisonous Plants in North America

| September 10, 2013 |

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Christopher McCandless was featured in John Krakauer’s book Into the Wild. In a book about travelling independently through North America, McCandless’s story ends by eating a poisonous plant. Through this example, McCandless has made popular the very important mission of knowing which plants in North America are poisonous. If you plan on hiking or backpacking in North America and want to know about most poisonous plants, take a look at the plants below.

This pink, lily-pad-looking plant won’t kill you but it will make you extremely uncomfortable. After eating the plant, you mouth with break out into blisters and result in intense soreness.


Castor Bean Plants
The seeds contain deadly ricin and ingesting the plant or the seed is fatal. The leaf looks something like a marijuana plant leaf and interestingly can be found at most garden stores.

Castor Bean Plants

Also found at the garden store, Chrysanthemums are often used to keep rabbits out of the garden. This plant also works on detracting humans as touching the plant produces itchiness and redness of the skin.


Often found in homes and businesses as decorative plants, the milky sap from the tree can be poisonous. Touching the sap can result in itchiness and redness of the skin.


Growing at about three feet high, these plants are long and produce purple flowers that bloom close to one another. While the leaves of Foxglove are used in heart medication, it’s a bad idea to eat them in the wild. Eating Foxglove can result in irregular heartbeat, vomiting, diarrhea, and intense cramps. It’s best to use activated charcoal to evacuate it from your system, or if you’re in the city, have your stomach pumped.


Also found in several garden stores, the Hydrangea bush is beautiful and produces vibrant-colored flowers, but is poisonous. If you eat the flowers, you’ll experience sweating, cramps, itchy skin, and vomiting. Those who have eaten too many have known to fall into comas.


Lily of the Valley
A beautiful plant often found in gardens in areas with steady rainfall, these plants are poisonous to the touch and to eat. If you touch them, you may have itchiness and redness of the skin. If you eat them, you’ll experience stomach aches, cramping, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and an irregular heartbeat. This is a more serious poisonous plant as your heart health is in danger with this one. It’s best to seek professional treatment for this plant, though you can use activated charcoal if you have to.

Lily of the Valley plant

Mala Mujer
Found primarily in the Southwest, this plant looks like a weed that produces white flowers. It has milky sap that causes irritation and redness of the skin, and if you rub your eyes, it may cause permanent damage such as blindness.

Mala Mujer poisen

Monkshood is a beautiful, round, purple flower that grows on a plain stalk. Also found in gardens, it’s important to handle this flower with gloves. Exposure to the plant or flower can result in asphyxiation due to the high levels of alkaloid aconite.


Extremely dangerous, this plant has pink or white flowers with 5 petals. This plant grows well and in several different climates, so you’re likely to come across it. It’s so poisonous, however, that you can’t even drink water if the oleander has touched it. It causes the heart rate to slow down and could cause heart palpitations. If you ingest it, it’s best to seek professional treatment. If you’re in the middle of nowhere, use activated charcoal or try to induce dry vomiting.


Another garden flower with five petals, it is often pink or white with brown specks on the petals. This springtime plant is extremely poisonous both by its sap and by its leaves. It causes a burning mouth, vomiting, and diarrhea. Eating too much of this plant results in convulsions, coma, or death.

Rhododendron poisen

Western Water Hemlock
The most poisonous plant in North America, it grows all along the Western coast and in the Pacific Northwest. Eating this plant immediately results in grand mal seizures and later death. Be particularly wary of this plant as there isn’t much you can do for the patient once he or she ingests hemlock.

Western Water Hemlock poisen

White Snake Root
You are more likely to see this plant hiking or backpacking than you would in a garden as this poisonous plant has been mostly eliminated in North America except for wild growths of it. It is a small, low-to-the-ground plant that produces voluminous, thin, white petals that spray out. This plant is not only poisonous to humans, but if it’s eaten by cows, it can turn the milk poisonous. In fact, that is how Abraham Lincoln’s mother died. Ingesting this plant can be fatal.

White Snake Root

Mostly growing in the Southeast and Southwest regions of the continent, Wisteria grows to tree-height and produces long, delicate, purple flowers in an inverted triangle. These flowers are poisonous and cause diarrhea, stomach pain, cramps, and vomiting.

Wisteria poisen

Be a survivor. Some of these poisonous plants affect the skin and some when injected can be hazardous. If you’re hiking or backpacking, always carry some emergency supplies just in case you accidentally come into contact with some of these plants. One such emergency supply is activated charcoal, a fine black powder that is tasteless that can harness the poison and keep it from invading your body. Keep in mind, though, that this and other remedies don’t work on every poison, so it’s best to avoid this list of the most poisonous plants

Category: Food And Water, How To Guides, Wilderness Skills

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