Saturday, July 3, 2010

Pick Your Poison - The Most Lethal Plants in the World

They cannot run, swim, yell or launch a projectile but can yet kill as efficiently as Freddy the Springwood Slasher. Over the course of millions of years, these defenseless creatures came up with some nasty ways to fend off feeding herbivores and in the process developed deadly neurotoxins, powerful digestive enzymes and thorns that could pierce car tires. Surprisingly, most of these plants can be found hanging around in your street alleys, delivered fresh at doorstep by your florist or found keeping your backyard garden pest-free. Under constant attack from animals and the forces of natural selection, the Kingdom Plantae engineered their own Silent Assassins.
So lets meet the green hitmen of the plant world.

Known as the Common Bladderwort, it is the most gruesome aquatic carnivore. It has several bladder structures beneath the water surface which capture unsuspecting prey that brush past its bladders. The victims perish out of starvation and the decaying matter is absorbed by its cells on the bladder walls.

Nicknamed the Devil's Helmet, its your best bet to get rid off guests who have overstayed their welcome. Its vibrant color makes it a popular dweller of most backyard gardens but if ingested can cause severe cause asphyxiation. Its loaded with poisonous alkaloid aconite.

Another enticing slayer, the nightshade or the Devil's Cherry is toxic from root-tip to petals. Ingestion of its sweet fruit even in tiny amounts causes loss of voice, convulsions and respiratory problems thanks to the atropine it contains, a deadly alkaloid. Children are specially vulnerable due to its bright purple color and the sweet cherry fruit it produces.

The English Yew is a common feature in most European forests and is one of the most poisonous plants on the planet. All parts of the tree are poisonous except for the flesh of the cherries it produces. The primary toxin produced by the plant is taxine which can induce cardiac arrest, paralysis and convulsions even in minute amounts. Dried powder of its leaves was used as a method of birthcontrol by women in days before contraceptives were available, which often resulted in death.

The USDA describes the Water Hemlock as the most violently toxic plant found in North America. This plant contains the toxin cicutoxin which can destroy the central nervous system and cause grand mal seizures followed by a quick death if ingested. The great philosopher Socrates apparently drank this poison to death.

Enjoying a pest-free lifestyle in a neighborhood notorious for a rodent infestation, this carnivorous Giant Pitcher plant is likely benefactor. The 30 cm diameter of the plant is wide enough to trap rodents and the slippery surface of its walls makes it impossible for the prey to escape, though insects are its most common meals.

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