Health Alert: Dangerous plants

Jimson Weed (left), and Giant Hogweed (right)   Courtesy: UHC
Jimson Weed (left), and Giant Hogweed (right) Courtesy: UHC(WDTV)
Published: Jul. 27, 2018 at 5:20 PM EDT
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Welcome back to Health Alert. Tonight, we have important information concerning two dangerous plants that are commonly found in the woods.

Jimson Weed currently grows throughout the mountain state and Giant hogweed is prominent throughout states surrounding WV. Joining us is Dr. West, faculty and physician, at UHC Family Medicine.

Question: So doctor, what is Jimson Weed and what does it look like?

Answer: Jimson weed is a plant growing naturally in West Virginia, and due to its easy availability and strong anticholinergic properties, teens are using Jimson weed as a drug. Poisoning from Jimson weed results in side effects from ingesting the plant, these include: Tachycardia, dry mouth, dilated pupils, blurred vision, hallucinations, confusion, combative behavior, and difficulty urinating.

The plant can grow two to three feet in height and width within two to three months. The physical characteristics of the plant include:

1.) Large, long-stalked, heart-shaped leaves with wavy margins

2.) White, tube-shaped flowers

3.) Egg-shaped, spiny fruits filled with black, kidney-shaped seeds

Question: I understand that another plant we should be concerned about is giant hogweed, why should West Virginians be so concerned?

Answer: Giant hogweed is a part of the carrot family, and for a toxic plant, it is surprisingly beautiful. The plant can grow up to 15-20 feet tall, with leaves stretching two to five feet across and huge clusters of white flowers that embellish the top of the plant in an umbrella pattern. The arrangement of flowers look similar to Queen Anne's Lace; however, giant hogweed is larger with thicker leaves.

Originally native to Europe, the plant has been discovered in Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, and most recently, Virginia.

It typically blooms from mid-June to mid-July, and it is most commonly found along railroads, roadsides, vacant lots, streams, and agricultural areas.

Question: Tell us what we should do if we ingest Jimson Weed and come in contact with giant Hogweed?

Answer: Well, Jimson Weed poisonings have the potential to cause serious harm, most require evaluation in an emergency room and hospitalization is often required. Please note that the Internet can provide children with misleading information about the toxic effects of Jimson Weed.

Exposure to giant Hogweed may occur by being within 15 feet of the plant or making direct contact. If anyone’s skin makes contact with the plant, avoid exposure to the sunlight and immediately wash with soap and water. The sap makes human skin extra-sensitive to ultra-violet light, so use precautions to avoid severe burns. If the sap remains on the skin too long, some cases of blindness may occur.


Question: What are some plants that give the appearance of food that we normally eat, but can be toxic?

Answer: Horse nettle (Solanum carolinense) plants are dead during the winter, but their fruits can remain plump and juicy. The fruit has a greenish or yellow-colored, cherry-tomato-shape.

Eating the fruit can cause abdominal pain, this may lead to circulatory and respiratory depression. Just remember that there are no edible “wild tomatoes.”

Wild cherry trees (Prunus spp.) produce a tasty cherry fruit, but these same trees can also be a source of toxicity. The wilting leaves develop a high concentration of cyanide. The cherries themselves also contain cyanide in their pits, so don’t try to grind those up for flour or any other foods.

Nightshade are one of the most dangerous look-alikes, resembling blueberries. There are several species of nightshade (Solanum spp.) growing wild throughout the U.S. Just a handful of the bitter berries can contain deadly amounts of toxic alkaloids, among other compounds. If your “blueberries” don’t taste sweet, or don’t grow on a woody shrub, chances are good that you’re eating a dangerous nightshade instead.

The pokeweed plant (Phytolacca americana) has some of the juiciest and most appetizing looking berries of late summer and early fall. Do not be fooled by this alluring look. Migrating birds, deer, and many other animals can chow down on these poisonous berries with no ill effect.

A handful could kill a child, and a little more could kill an adult. Pokeweed can be spotted easily by the grape-like clusters of purple-black berries and brightly colored, purplish-pink stalks up to eight feet tall.

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