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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Plants Toxic to Animals

A

Alfalfa (Medicago sativa L.)

Description

Alfalfa is an excellent forage crop when harvested and stored properly. However, the plant can cause "hepatogenous photosensitivity syndrome" if water-damaged (Monlux AW . J Am Vet Med Assoc, Vol. 142, 9, p. 989-994, 1963). 

Distribution

Alfalfa is commonly cultivated for animal feed, and instances of it growing in the wild often occur near areas where it is purposefully cultivated. Midwestern states where it is commonly found include Illinois, Tennessee, and Alabama, but it is also found in western states like Colorado and New Mexico.

Conditions of Poisoning 

Consuming fresh alfalfa can cause cause bloating in cattle and sheep. Additionally, "saponins found in alfalfa limit its use for swine and poultry." (Source: Cornell University Plants Poisonous to Livestock

Control 

Limit your livestock's intake of alfalfa, and ensure that you're not feeding them moldy or damp feed. 

Toxic Principle

All parts of the plant. The primary poisons are canavanine and saponins.

Clinical Signs

Fresh alfalfa can cause bloating in cows.

Animals Affected

Cattle, chickens, sheep, horses

References Used

http://powo.science.kew.org/taxon/urn:lsid:ipni.org:names:30234961-2#distribution-map

B

Bloodroot or Red Puccoon (Sanguinaria canadensis L.)

Description

Bloodroot is a low, glabrous, stemless perennial herb. It has extensively branched rhizomes, and each growing tip produces a flower stem and a leaf that is palmately lobed with 5 to 7 lobes. The flower appears from March to May, rolled in a single leaf. The white-to-pink flower has 8-12 oblong petals and numerous golden yellow stamens. The flower is initially taller than the leaf, but as it turns to fruit, the leaf unfolds and flattens to shade the fruit. The root has reddish-orange sap.    

Distribution

Bloodroot grows throughout the mid to eastern states of the U.S. east of the Mississippi and from southern Canada to the northern half of Louisiana and Georgia. It is found in most counties of Illinois in moist but well-drained woodland soil. 

Conditions of Poisoning

All parts of the plant are poisonous but the toxins are most highly concentrated in the root after leaves are completely open. The active alkaloid levels vary greatly between regions as well as populations. 

Toxic Principle

The red-colored latex from this plant contains several alkaloids similar to those found in the Opium Poppy, and include sanguinarine, chelerythrine, protopine, and homochelidonine, as well as resins. 

Clinical Signs

Symptoms of bloodroot poisoning include nausea, vomiting, faintness, dizziness, dilated pupils, fainting, diarrhea, and heart failure. Poisoning can be fatal.

Animals Affected

Goats

References Used

Burrows, George E., & Tyrl, Ronald J. (2013). Toxic plants of North America. Hoboken: Wiley-Blackwell.

https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/all/sanguinaria-canadensis/

Bouncing Bet (Saponaria officinalis L.)

Description

Bouncing bet is an herbaceous perennial which grows from rhizomes. Its close relative, cow cockle (Saponaria vaccaria L.), is an annual. It grows to be 1-3 feet tall. The stems are erect and jointed with opposite elliptic leaves which are 3-4 inches long and 1/2 to 1-1/2 inches wide at the middle. The leaf margins lack teeth.

The flowers come in clusters of cylindric sepals and bloom from June to September, displaying 5-6 petals notched at the apex. Petal colors range from white to pink. The fruit is a capsule about 1 inch long and 1/4 inch thick containing many somewhat round black seeds. The seeds have minute bumps on the surface.

Distribution

Originally from Europe, bouncing bet and the related species, cow cockle (Saponaria vaccaria L.), grow in open unused areas, along roadsides and railroad tracks, and waste grounds throughout the U.S. Bouncing bet is found in nearly all counties of Illinois, while cow cockle is limited only to scattered counties in northern and central Illinois. Bouncing bet and cow cockle are considered weeds, although they are attractive plants.

Conditions of Poisoning

The abundance of bouncing bet along roadsides and in other wastelands makes it easily accessible to animals allowed to graze in such places. Although the entire plant is poisonous, the seeds contain the largest concentration of the toxic principle.

Control

Screenings of grain should be checked for large quantities of Saponaria seeds. Animals tend to avoid contaminated feed because the plants apparently are distasteful. Animals should not be grazed where Saponaria species is abundant, especially when the pasture grasses are present in short supply or are exceedingly dry. 

Toxic Principle

Bouncing Bet contains large amounts of saponins, which froth when extracted with water. The saponins are soluble in water and alcohol. The sapotoxins of these saponins are similar or identical to those of corn cockle (Agrostemma Githago). Hydrolysis of the saponins yields sugars and sapogonins, a group of physiologically active substances.

The toxic material is contained in highest concentration in the seeds. Most animals refuse to eat the seeds and avoid grains or screenings containing them. Feeding of the plant itself to sheep in an amount of 3% of the body weight caused death within 4 hours; the plant weight being expressed on a dry-weight basis.

Clinical Signs

Poisoning caused by bouncing bet is usually mild, as animals tend to avoid the feed that contains this plant. The poison irritates the digestive tract and may cause vomiting, signs suggestive of nausea, and diarrhea. Slowed or rapid breathing as well as unsteadiness, ataxia and coma also are associated with poisoning by this plant.

Animals Affected

Cattle, sheep, horses

Bracken Fern or Brake Fern (Pteridium aquilinum)

Description 

Bracken fern is a typical fern. Its large triangular fronds are divided into three main parts with each part bipinnately subdivided. These fronds are 2 to 4 feet long by 1 to 3 feet wide. They are borne at the tips of erect, rigid, straw-colored, smooth stalks 1 to 3 feet tall. The stalks rise at intervals from stout black underground rootstocks sometimes a yard or more long.

Spores are borne in late summer at the edges on the lower sides of mature fronds, and the edges fold under to form the spore cover. The rootstocks also spread the fern.

Distribution

Many varieties of bracken fern are found throughout the U.S., particularly in dry pastures and meadows, abandoned fields, and open woods on sandy and gravelly soil. In Illinois it may be a pest throughout the northern third of the state.

Even when there is no bracken fern in the open pastures, it may be growing in the fencerows and along roadsides, where animals may browse it when other forage is scarce.

Conditions of Poisoning

In dry, hot seasons or in late summer to early fall, when succulent herbage is scarce, animals more often eat bracken, although they generally avoid it at other times. Also, if hay is cut from bracken fern-infested meadows and fed, poisoning may result. Both cattle and horses are susceptible to bracken fern poisoning. Sheep and swine rarely eat bracken fern, but exposed swine (at least) may sometimes experience a thiaminase-mediated syndrome.

Control

Especially during dry periods, animals should be kept out of bracken fern-infested pastures. Hay from infested meadows should not be used for feed or bedding. Generally bracken fern should be eliminated from pastures and hayfields. Large infestations of bracken fern may be reduced gradually by pulling or mowing the fronds twice a year (in June and August) or by fertilizing and liming infested areas. 

Toxic Principle 

Thiaminase from bracken fern especially affects horses and pigs but not cattle. Ptaquiloside affects cattle and sheep and causes bone marrow damage. Other toxic principles that affect cattle are: aplastic anemia factor, and hematuria causing factor. 

Clinical Signs

Bracken fern poisoning affects the cow and the horse differently with regard to both clinical signs of illness and tissue damage. Consumption of the plant may also affect the flavor and odor of the milk produced by the animal.

In cattle:

After feeding on bracken fern for several to many days, cattle often sicken rather suddenly and, contrary to their reaction to most types of plant poisoning, they may show a very high fever. Major effects of bracken fern poisoning in cattle are related to damage to the blood forming elements (decreases production of white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets) and sometimes to urinary tract carcinogenesis. Clinical signs may include rapid loss of body weight, difficult breathing, excessive salivation, bleeding from the nose, blood in the droppings, and congested, hemorrhagic, or icteric (jaundiced or yellowish) mucous membranes may also be observed. Bracken fern poisoning has been mistaken for anthrax and other infectious diseases of cattle.

In horses:

The first clinical signs of bracken fern poisoning in horses are usually an unsteady gait, a "tucked up" appearance of the flanks, nervousness, timidity, congestion of the visible mucous membranes, and constipation. Later, the horse may stand with legs spread, walking with a staggering gait, and occasionally fall, especially if its head is raised suddenly. The appetite may remain normal. Dilated pupils and both increased and decreased heart action have been reported in cases of equine bracken fern poisoning. If not treated, death occurs in 2-10 days, though some horses occasionally survive up to 30 days or more after onset of poisoning.

Animals Affected

Horse, cattle, sheep, swine

References Used

Knight, A. P., & Walter, R. G. (2001). A guide to plant poisoning of animals in North America. Jackson, Wyo.: Teton NewMedia.

Buckeye or Horse Chestnut (Aesculus glabra Willd.)

Description

A tree which reaches a maximum height of 50-70 feet with a rough bark that has disagreeable odor. The leaves are made up of 5 rather large, leaf-like leaflets set like the fingers or a hand, at the end of the leafstalk.

Blossoms: Large clusters of pale yellowish-green blossoms appear at the ends of the branches. They are usually seen in May after the leaves appear.

Fruit: A globular, spine-roughened capsule which contains 1-3 large glossy chocolate-colored nuts each with a large whitish scar. 

Distribution

The buckeye grows in woods throughout Illinois, preferring rich, moist soils. In the northern part of the state it is infrequent. Southward it is more common, but nowhere in Illinois does it occur other than as an occasional tree. 

Conditions of Poisoning

Sprouts, leaves, and nuts of the plant are reported to have caused illness or death in cattle, sheep, and pigs when these animals were pastured where sprouts were present and where other forage was scarce. Especially poisonous are the young sprouts and the seeds. Poisoning does not always follow when animals feed on the tree. In experimental feeding, symptoms of poisoning appeared in only a small number of the animals.

Control

Until grass or other forage is abundant, animals should not be allowed to graze in woodland pastures where there are buckeye sprouts. Sprouts and seedlings should be grubbed out of pastures. If the trees are few, as they usually are, it may be advisable to collect the nuts in order to keep hogs from getting them. The tree has little commercial value, but since it is uncommon, it should not be unnecessarily destroyed. 

Toxic Principle

Glycosides, especially a glycosidic saponin called aesculin and possibly a narcotic alkaloid. Note: Glycoside is defined as a molecule containing a carbohydrate (sugar) moiety, particularly any such natural product in plants.

Clinical Signs

In simple stomached animals, vomiting and gastroenteritis are the primary effects of the toxic glycoside.

Animals Affected

Cattle, sheep, pigs, goats

References Used

Knight, A. P., & Walter, R. G. (2001). A guide to plant poisoning of animals in North America. Jackson, Wyo.: Teton NewMedia.

Buttercup (Ranunculus spp.)

Description

The small-flowered buttercup is an erect, often widely branched smooth herb with a hollow stem. It grows 6 inches to 2 feet tall. It has two kinds of leaves: petioled basal leaves that are roundish and have scalloped edges, and alternately placed stem leaves that are stalkless, deeply divided, and made up of about 5 narrow lobes, often 3-pointed. Its flowers are yellow, are 1/4 inch wide or less, and have 5 petals, which are shorter than the 5 green sepals. After the flowers wither, numerous seeds form globose heads at the tops of the flower stalks.

The cursed buttercup (Ranunculus sceleratus L.) is similar to the small-flowered buttercup but has divided basal leaves. Its stems are hollow. The hooked buttercup (Ranunculus recurvatus Poir.), so-named because of its hook-tipped seeds, has long yellow petals that form a flower 1 inch wide. The swamp buttercup (R. septentrionalis Poir.) has 3-lobed leaves and bright-yellow flowers 1 inch or more wide. 

Distribution

The buttercups named above occur as frequent to common plants throughout the state. The small-flowered buttercup, often a troublesome weed, may be found in any location that is not very sandy or wet. The cursed buttercup is limited to the northern third of the state, where it may be abundant in ditches and springy places as well as in ponds. The swamp buttercup grows in wet woods everywhere in the state.

Several other kinds of buttercups, less abundant or less widely distributed, may be seen in other habitats or from place to place. The tall buttercup (Ranunculus acris L.), to which poisoning of stock is commonly attributed, occurs in northern and central Illinois as a plant introduced locally along highways and railroads. 

Conditions of Poisoning

Buttercups generally inhabit moist areas. Animals allowed to graze in woods, in wet meadows, and by ditches and streams browse the buttercups with other succulent plants. All animals are susceptible to buttercup poisoning, but cows are most often poisoned. Dried buttercups, however, are not poisonous; therefore animals can be fed buttercup-infested hay without danger. 

Control

Animals should not be grazed in pastures heavily infested with buttercups, especially when other herbage is scant or dry. Buttercups are hard to destroy because of their tendency to inhabit moist and wet places. Mowing the plants each year before they produce seed will tend to keep them from increasing and may eventually destroy them. 

Toxic Principle

Ranunculus spp. contain the glycoside, ranunculin from which the poisonous principle, protoanemonin is released when the plant is crushed by virtue of enzymatic action which is activated by crushing. Protoanemonin is a volatile, yellow oil with a lactone moiety which is extremely prone to undergo spontaneous polymerization to yield the innocuous anemonin. Protoanemonin is a bitter tasting oil. 

Clinical Signs

Buttercup poisoning causes cows to give less milk and may cause the milk to be bitter and red tinted. Severe poisoning brings on colic and diarrhea, with black foul-odored feces, nervousness, twitching of the ears and lips, difficult breathing, and eventually convulsions. The symptoms shown by horses and sheep are similar, but poisoned sheep are likely to fall suddenly. Pigs suspected of tall-buttercup poisoning have shown paralysis but not much digestive disorder. 

Animals Affected

Cattle, goats, horses

C

Castor Bean (Ricinus communis)

Description

Castor bean is a herbaceous annual which can reach to nearly 15 feet tall when growing in open spaces in warm climates. Large leaves are alternate, palmately lobed with 5-11 toothed lobes. Leaves are glossy and often red or bronze tinted when young. Flowers appear in clusters at the end of the main stem in late summer. The fruit consists of an oblong spiny pod which contains three seeds on average. Seeds are oval and light brown, mottled or streaked with light and dark brown and resemble a pinto bean. The plant itself is fast growing, but the seeds require a long frost-free season in order to mature. 

Distribution

Castor bean is native to the tropics (Africa) but is planted as a garden plant throughout the U.S. for its large, striking appearance. It is now commerically grown in the U.S. in Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Oregon and California. As a result, it is naturalized in the south where winters are mild and most often is found near streambeds, dumping grounds, barnyards or along roadsides.

Conditions of Poisoning

All parts of the plants are toxic, but most dangerous are the seeds. The most susceptible animal species include cattle, horses, sheep, pigs, fowl, rabbits and other small animals. Seeds ingested at 0.2% of body weight have caused toxicosis in cattle and 0.01% of body weight was toxic to horses.

Control

Castor bean plants are grown largely as commercial and garden plants, and should not be planted in or near livestock enclosures. Plants may appear in the wild in areas of the south where the plant has become naturalized, and animals should not be allowed to graze in areas where the plant grows.

Toxic Principle

The principle toxin of castor bean is ricin which is a lectin, also termed a toxalbumin. Ricin may comprise up to 3% of the seed weight. Toxalbumins are very toxic plant-derived compounds that combine carbohydrate and protein moieties or components. Ricin is water soluble and is not present in castor oil. Taken orally, ricin is readily absorbed from the stomach and intestine. Another phytotoxin in castor bean, ricinine, is reportedly goitrogenic, but the significance of this compound is not clearly established.

Clinical Signs

Signs appear after a characteristic lag period of a few hours to days, usually between 12 hours and 48 hours. Signs support nausea and include evidence of abdominal pain, bloody diarrhea, tenesmus, and dehydration. Additional signs may be anorexia, cessation of rumination, excessive thirst, weakness, muscle twitching, dullness of vision, convulsions, dyspnea, opisthotonus and coma. At postmortem severe inflammation of the stomach and intestine are evident.

Sometimes convulsions and decreased tendon reflexes are observed. After convulsions, death may result from paralysis of the respiratory center. Artifical respiration may not preserve life for long because of rapid onset of concurrent vasomotor paralysis.

In ducks, there is an ascending paralysis which may be confused with botulism. Sometimes thousands of ducks as well as geese are poisoned.

For horses, signs include trembling, sweating, dyspnea, incoordination, vigorous heart contractions, shivering, cold extremities, depression, increased body temperature, weak pulse, constipation or diarrhea, and convulsions.

Cattle may have diarrhea stained with blood.

Pigs have frequent vomiting.

Poultry show signs of depression, roughened feathers, droopy wings, greyish wattles and combs, and emaciation. Egg production ceases and premature moulting may begin.

Animals Affected

Ducks, horses, cattle, pigs, poultry

Cockleburs (Xanthium strumarium L.)

Description

The cocklebur plant is a coarse herbaceous annual about 3 feet high. They have erect, stout stems and spreading branches that are angled and often red-spotted. The leaves are alternate, rough to the touch, and broadly triangular to heart-shaped. Cockleburs produce two kinds of flowers. One kind, in short terminal branches, produces only pollen; the other kind, in clusters in the axils of the leaves, produces seed. The fruit is a small, hard, 2-chambered bur, oval in shape and about 3/4 inch long. It is covered with strong, hooked spines. This plant reproduces only by means of its seed. 

The seedling, the plant's most dangerous stage, is very different from the mature plant. It consists of a slender, straight whitish green stem 1 to 3 inches tall. Capping this stem are two strap-shaped green leaves, each about 1 1/4 inches long and l/4 inch wide. Leaves produced after these first leaves gradually assume the characteristic shape of those of the mature plant. Proof of the identity of young seedlings may be found in their attachment underground to the easily recognized burs from which they sprout.

Distribution

Cockleburs occur throughout Illinois and the rest of the U.S. as stray plants in waste places, cornfields, pastures, and along roadsides, fencerows, stream banks, the beds of dry ponds, and previously flooded land along streams and rivers. Pastures and meadows may be heavily infested, especially with the seedling stage as the result of the burs having been washed in from adjoining fields.

Conditions of Poisoning

Pigs rooting and grazing in cocklebur infested places are the most often poisoned domestic species, with those weighing between 20-50 pounds being the most susceptible. Poisoning also affects cattle, sheep, horses, and fowl.

The plant is most hazardous at the seedling stage because of its toxicity as well as palatability. Ingestion of young seedlings in the amount of 0.75% of the animal's weight may result in clinical signs of toxicosis in a few hours and death in 24-48 hours. Approximately 500 seedlings was lethal to a 40-pound pig. The seeds are poisonous at 0.3% of animal weight but are seldom eaten because of their spiny capsule. Occasionally the eating of the ripe spiny capsules is said to result in intestinal obstruction. Mature plants, however, are seldom eaten, perhaps because of their bitterness and rough texture.

Control

Animals should be kept out of infested grazing grounds and drinking places during late spring and early summer when cocklebur seeds are sprouting. Plants in crop fields and pastures may be removed by hoeing and weeding. Heavily infested places should be mowed before the plants form seeds.

Toxic Principle

Carboxyatractyloside, a sulfated glycoside, which is present in high concentrations in the seed and cotyledon, is now believed to be the primary toxic principle. As plants develop past the seedling stage, their toxicity decreases. The seeds and seedlings of cockleburs contain the glucoside xanthostrumarin. Toxicity is not lost on drying.

Clinical Signs

Clinical signs usually appear within 2-24 hours after ingestion and may be followed by death within 3 days after the onset of illness. Signs most often include anorexia, reduced responsiveness, vomiting, rapid weak pulse, dyspnea, muscular weakness, prostration, and spasmodic contraction of leg and neck muscles. Ascites and potentially lethal hypoglycemia may occur.

Pigs display signs consistent with abdominal pain, and if severely poisoned may show opisthotonos, spasmodic running motions followed by convulsions and death after about 48 hours.

Cattle may become blind, develop extreme hypersensitivity to external stimuli and prominent convulsions. Calves die acutely, often within 12 hours.

Fowl show markedly reduced response to external stimuli which may be followed by death.

Animals Affected

Pigs, cattle, fowl, rodents

Crown of Thorns (Euphorbia milii)

Description

A low-growing evergreen shrub with very thorny grooved stems and branches. The stems are purplish brown and are 1-2 feet tall on average, but can reach 3 feet in a warm climate. The thorns are sharp, pointed and are 1/2 inch long on avarage. The ovate leaves are 1-3 inches long, few in number, and are found mostly at the growing ends. The cyathia, a type of inflorescence characteristic of the genus Euphorbia, are born in small umbels and have showy, ovate and bright red bracts. The small flowers are produced in clusters of 2-8 at the tips of green flower stem about 1 inch long. Genus Euphorbia includes other commonly available plants such as poinsettia (E. pulcherrima) and snow-on-the-mountain (E. marginata).

Distribution

A native of Madagascar, Crown of Thorns is widely grown as a house plant in northern states including Illinois, and as a common garden plant in southern states, especially Florida.

Conditions of Poisoning

The poisonous principle is present in all parts of the plant. Euphorbia species generally are highly unpalatable, but animals may eat them due to lack of good forage. Drying does not destroy the toxicity of the plant, and Euphorbia in hay may be slightly more palatable to livestock. Contact with the white, milky sap may cause severe blistering as well as intense pain to open cuts or eyes. Honey made from the flowers of these plants may be toxic.

Control

Light infestations of pastures usually are not a problem since most Euphorbia can be grazed to a limited degree without noticeable reactions. Mowing and reseeding with hardy pasture plants is helpful for heavier infestations of Euphorbia, since most pasture species are annuals; light restocking rates also may help increase the predominance of desirable forage species. Supplemental feeding is suggested in some areas when desirable forage is scarce.

Toxic Principle

The poisonous principles have been identified as phorbol esters. Phorbol esters activate protein kinase C. Protein phosphorylation is increased by protein kinase C which may alter multiple enzyme and other protein functions. Effects may result in cytoskeletal damage and tumor promotion.

Clinical Signs

Generally horses, cattle, sheep, cats, dogs and humans are affected by Euphorbia and may experience severe irritation of the mouth and gastrointestinal tract, sometimes with hemorrhage and diarrhea. Other general signs include blistering, swelling about the eyes and mouth, excessive salivation and emesis, abdominal pain and weakness. The sap may cause dermatitis. Death is rare. Work horses may suffer severe blisters and loss of hair on the ankles. Approximately 3 kg of E. prostrata and E. marginata when fed to cattle produces severe scours and emaciation.

Animals Affected

Horses, cattle, sheep, cats, dogs

D

Daffodil (Narcissus spp.)

Description

Daffodils are ornamental perennial bulbs, common to the United States. The plant grows from bulbs that are various sizes and shapes. The leaves are long and narrow, and the flowers grow either as single flowers or in clusters of up to 20 flowers. They typically don't have a scent, and are either white, yellow, or orange in color.

Distribution

Daffodils are found worldwide.

Conditions of Poisoning

While the entire plant is toxic, the bulbs are particularly toxic. Consuming the bulb may cause vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and in some cases, cardiac arrhythmia or respiratory depression. 

Control

Keep your pets and animals away from daffodil plants and bulbs so they don't accidentally eat them. If they do, contact your veterinarian immediately. 

Toxic Principle

At least 15 phenanthridine alkaloids including lycorine, have been identified in the leaves, stems and bulbs of Narcissus. The concentrations of the alkaloids are highest in the outer layers of the bulbs.

Clinical Signs

Vomiting, diarrhea, difficulty breathing or swallowing, excess salivation, seizures, dermatitis.

Animals Affected

Dogs, cats, horses, humans

Dogbanes (Apocynum cannabinum L. and other species)

Description

This is a perennial milky-juiced herb of the Dogbane family. It has opposite leaves which are simple, nearly 5 inches long and about half as wide, with smooth margins.

Distribution

This weed is scattered throughout the United States in open fields, pastures, along roadsides and streams. Sometimes the plant is cultivated for ornament and for use in medicine.

Conditions of Poisoning

This plant is reportedly very distasteful and animals usually avoid it, so poisoning is infrequent. It is consumed primarily when other forage is in short supply. Both green and dried dogbane are toxic. Fifteen to thirty grams of green leaves have been reported to cause the death of a horse or a cow. The root of Apocynum cannabinum has been employed therapeutically to "retard the heart in systole" and was therefore used for "dropsy" and "heart trouble."

Control

Keep animals from grazing along roadsides, in abandoned fields, or in any other areas where dogbanes are growing. Do not cut hay from land infested with dogbanes. Get rid of these plants in all areas in which animals are grazed or from which hay is cut to be used as feed.

Toxic Principle

Cardiac glycosides.

Clinical Signs

Animals that have eaten appreciable quantities of dogbane show first a rise in body temperature, sweating, and a strong pulse but cold extremities. The pupils of the eyes are usually dilated. The inside of the mouth and nostrils becomes discolored, and later the mouth becomes so sore that the animal refuses food. In spite of this, bowel action may be frequent. Death is likely to follow.

Animals Affected

Horses, cattle, sheep, cats, dogs, goats

Dutchman's Breeches & Squirrel Corn (Dicentra cucullaria (L.) Bernh. & Dicentra canadensis (Goldie) Walp.)

Description

Dutchman's Breeches is a low, delicate herb, with slender leaf stalks and flower stalks, both rising from an underground, scaly bulb. Its lacy leaves are 3-parted and finely divided. The flower stalks are 5 to 10 inches long and bear several nodding blossoms 1/2 to 3/4 inch long. The blossoms are odorless, white, and flattened; their peculiar shape suggests the common name of the plant. Seeds are produced in small spindle-shaped pods.

A closely related Dicentra Canadensis (squirrel corn) grows 6-12 inches tall from a horizontal rhizome with small round tubers at the base of the plant. Below ground it has a long rootstock bearing yellowish flattened, orbicular corms. Other than the fact the spurs of D. canadensis are short and not divergent, the two species of Dicentra are very much alike, except that squirrel corn has fragrant flowers.

Distribution

Both Dutchman's breeches and squirrel corn occur throughout the state in wooded areas. Dutchman's breeches is in many places abundant, especially on wooded slopes that have well-drained soil and rich deposits of leaf mold. Squirrel corn, although preferring the same habitat, is much rarer.

Generally Dicentra spp. grow naturally in rich, moist woodlands of eastern to midwestern North America, ranging from New York and southern Ontario to northern Alabama and as far west as eastern Kansas and Nebraska.

Conditions of Poisoning

All parts of the plants are poisonous, and poisoning can occur through ingestion or skin contact. Poisoning generally only occurs after ingesting large amounts of the plant, and skin irritation caused by the plant is minor and quick to fade.

Control

Where Dutchman's Breeches is abundant in pastures, keep cows out until other forage is plentiful -- usually late in May. Let sheep graze infested pastures first. Although Dutchman's Breeches is hard to destroy, heavy grazing by sheep is reported to nearly rid woods pastures of this pest.

Toxic Principle

Isoquinoline alkaloids.

Clinical Signs

Eating the leaves and roots produce poisoning similar to that of Bleeding Heart, a common garden plant. The most common symptom of poisoning by Dutchman's breeches and squirrel corn is a staggering gait, which gives the common name staggerweed to both plants. After eating these plants, cows give less milk.

Experimental feeding of these plants to steers caused sudden trembling which increased in severity, frothing of the mouth, ejection of partially digested stomach contents, and convulsions. The eyes became glassy, and the animals went down and moaned as if in pain. Death from Dutchman's Breeches poisoning is rare, particularly if animals are kept away from the plant after the first symptoms appear.

Animals Affected

Cattle

References Used

https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/all/dicentra-cucullaria/