We all know about poison ivy and oak, but what are the real big baddies of the plant world? That’s what one plant-lover, or at least plant enthusiast, wants to know. They ask about the “scariest plants” in an online forum, and there are almost too many fascinating and terrifying answers for comfort.
There’s a reason that we’re taught as children not to take and eat any fruit from any plant or tree. Some fruit, like that of the manchineel tree, looks similar to other fruits we know and even tastes good if you take a bite.
But after some time, the taste turns into a burning, and the eater’s throat begins to swell, making it difficult to swallow. But that’s just the fruit, and in the case of the manchineel tree, every part of the tree is toxic to humans.
Datura Stramonium/Jimson Weed
This plant isn’t scary for people touching it, but it has a lot in store for anyone who ingests it. Datura Stramonium, also called the Jimson weed or the locoweed, has powerful hallucinogenic capabilities.
However, unlike more common recreational hallucinogens whose effects users can recognize as hallucinations, anyone who ingests datura stramonium will not know that they are hallucinating and will have extreme difficulty discerning between reality and fantasy.
One user highlights that while they are undoubtedly concerned about poisonous plants, what truly scares them are the spikes on honey locust trees. The tree’s spikes can only be described as gnarly; they are long, extremely sharp, and can easily break through the skin with a light touch.
Puya Chilensis/Sheep-Eating Plant
Finally, another calls out the horrifying puya chilensis, the “sheep-eating plant.” This plant can entangle animals, including ones up to the size of a fully grown sheep, and may or may not get nutrients from the animal’s corpse after it dies near its roots.
Castor Bean Plant
One botanist notes the dangers of the reasonably common Castor Bean Plant, whose seeds contain high levels of the toxin ricin. They share a story about how their boss was hospitalized for over a week after burning the plant during a yard clearing.
That leads another to point out that ricin is a key plot point in Breaking Bad and “‘substances that were a plot point in Breaking Bad’ is a category of things to avoid.”
Several botanists discuss the dangers of the nearly indistinguishable Queen Anne’s lace, which can be eaten for significant nutritional value, and poisonous water hemlock. Of course, any poisonous plant is scary, but the proximity to a potentially life-saving plant makes water hemlock so dangerous.
A significant discussion breaks out in the thread about which of the many plants in the Nepenthes family was the most terrifying. One person says Nepenthes ampullaria is the scariest because it evolved to eat insects, evolved even further to eat falling leaves, and is now an omnivorous plant.
Another says that Nepenthes truncata is the real horror in the family as it consumes all sorts of animals, including mammals, amphibians, and birds. Others still disagree and say they think Nepenthes hamata or bicalcarata are the scariest in this family of carnivorous plants.
Aconitum napellus, also known as Monkshood, is a plant that can be deadly to anyone who touches it. The plant’s poison can enter the body through pores and affects the heart within hours of touching it. It’s even worse if someone were to ingest it.
Numerous botanists discuss the dangers of the various hogweeds, especially the giant hogweed. Every subspecies of this plant is an invasive species, and each one is toxic to humans.
But the giant hogweed is larger and more poisonous than its siblings. Like water hemlock, hogweed is especially dangerous because it resembles Queen Anne’s lace.
Several people agree that the gympie-gympie plant is one of the scariest things, plant or not, to exist. The plant is covered in hairs that cause an excruciating sting and can last for years as the hairs are tough to remove. As one user points out, the recommended treatment “is applying hydrochloric acid,” which speaks to how horrifying the plant is.
This originally appeared on Planet Natural.
Melissa Pino is a biologist, master gardener, and regular contributor for Planet Natural. Melissa's work focuses on promoting environmentally-friendly practices, helping people create healthy gardens and finding ways to achieve overall health and wellness.