What would you suppose the most poisonous plant in the world would be? If someone asked you what the world’s most poisonous plant was, could you even guess what it would be?
There are many you might choose from. There are roughly 400,000 species of plants in the world, and while most of them aren’t poisonous, many of them are.
All parts of the foxglove plant are quite poisonous, though it is beautiful and has medicinal uses. It is from foxglove that we get the heart medicine digitalis. Too much digitalis can cause the heart to stop.
Deadly nightshade is also poisonous. This is the source of the heart drug; atropine. Both of foxglove and deadly nightshade yield important heart medicines and both are poisonous.
Poison hemlock (Conium maculatum) is also deadly, despite being a member of the carrot family, and was featured in plays by Shakespeare.
The powdered bark of the cinchona tree from Peru is such a powerful poison that it can cause paralysis and death in much the same way as the venom of several poisonous snakes. And yet, the same powdered bark produces one of the most important medicines, particularly in the tropics where malaria is a common danger; quinine.
Cherry pits, plum pits, peach pits, apricot pits and apple seeds also contain amygdalin, which is released when the pit is chewed up. Amygdalin breaks down into cyanide, which is quite poisonous. In fact, cyanide has been used in gas chambers and is still used to kill rodents and to fumigate homes.
Even with all that said, none of these are close to being the most poisonous plant. That honor goes to a plant that has the scientific name of Ricinus communis. This plant species is native to India, parts of Africa and the area around the Mediterranean. It has become naturalized in other places and now grows wild in California.
The poison in question comes from oils in the plant, especially in the fruits and seeds of the plant. The seeds are especially potent with the poison, which is called ricin.
Ricin is so powerful that less than a millionth of an ounce (.000001 oz.) or about 20 micrograms of this poison is enough to kill a 160-pound man. There is no known antidote to ricin poisoning, either.
And yet the oil that comes from the seeds of this plant is in common use around the world. The plant is grown as a decorative plant and the oil can be used as everything from a lubricant to an insect and rodent repellent. It has been used medicinally, too, because it is strongly antimicrobial. Additionally, the plant has antihistamine and anti-inflammatory properties. The oil is refined in places like Brazil and can be used as biodiesel.
Do you have any idea what the common name of this most poisonous plant?
The plant is commonly called the Castor Oil Plant and it is from this plant that castor oil is made. The oil is made out of the seeds, which are occasionally and mistakenly called castor beans. The seeds are not beans.
Anyway, the ricin that is contained in castor oil and throughout the plant makes this the world’s most poisonous plant.