Dirt on Gardening

Fall is a great time to notice flowers blooming in the woods and fields as the leaves of many annuals and perennials begin to fade. In the past week or so, I have noticed a couple of new wild bloomers on our farm, and upon further investigation, I found out that both of these native plants are actually also quite poisonous.

The first of these poisonous plants is commonly known as “white snakeroot.” The botanical name for white snakeroot is Ageratina altissima. White snakeroot is a member of the Asteraceae family, and blooms from July through October.

As its common name implies, white snakeroot has white blossoms. The flower heads are clusters of tiny white flowers that appear to have “tufts.” The leaves are green and oval-shaped with tooth-like edges.

White snakeroot is found in all types of soil throughout the state — from roadsides to rich woodlands. The plant can reach four feet in height, and the flowers are known for their longevity.

“Milk sickness” is the poisonous disease that white snakeroot causes. The plant is poisonous to humans and to cattle. If milking cows ingest the plant, the poison will show up in the cow’s milk. Abraham Lincoln’s mother died of milk sickness.

The other poisonous plant that you can find throughout the state is commonly referred to as “Jimsonweed” or “thorn apple,” a member of the nightshade family. Botanically referred to as Daturea stramonium, jimsonweed is a native of tropical places in North and South America.

Although jimsonweed is not a Missouri native, this five-foot tall plant can be found in pastures, barnyards, roadsides and cultivated land throughout the state. The plant is rather tropical looking with large white trumpet-shaped flowers that are about five inches in length. The flowers open in the evening and close in the morning, and they are very fragrant.

The leaves of jimsonweed are also remarkable with four-inch teeth on long, green, heavily veined leaves. The plant produces a spiny oval capsule that breaks open spilling flat, black seeds.

The leaves of jimsonweed have been dried and used pharmaceutically as a narcotic. However, in large doses the plant causes hallucinations and is highly poisonous.

Questions or comments related to gardening? Contact Joleen at missourigardener@hotmail.com

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