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Poisonous Plants to Avoid with Animals

Spring is a time of birth around a homestead—baby lambs, calves, foals, kids, chicks and a whole lot more. It is also a time of rebirth of things not so nice: weeds and poisonous plants. There are a lot of plants you should keep an eye out for when you begin your homesteading venture so your animals are not exposed to anything that will hurt or kill them, but even when you think you have it all under control, spring can bring back the plants you thought you were rid of.

Here are the top plants to beware of when you have livestock on your homestead.


This herb is very distinguished and can grow as high as five feet tall. It has serrated leaves that are bright green or purple, with pale green stems. In the early spring, jimsonweed has delicate white or purple flowers that are flute shaped and very long.

Jimsonweed is poisonous to humans as well as livestock, and children exposed to it in a field can become ill or even die from exposure. It is a hallucinogenic. Signs of jimsonweed poisoning are restlessness, rapid heart rate, nervousness, dilated pupils, twitching, diarrhea, and frequent urination. Exposure can even lead to coma, convulsions, irregular breathing, weak pulse, and death.

Some other names for jimsonweed are devil’s trumpet, angel’s trumpet, and downy thornapple.

Black Cherry

This plant is often pretty and can be overlooked when scouting out poisonous plants. However, it is extremely dangerous, and it doesn’t take much to kill livestock or even your dogs and cats. It can take the shape of a tree or a shrub and has long, oval leaves with very fine serrations on the edges. In the spring it has white flowers with a beautiful aroma that develop into clusters of dark-red and black cherry fruit.

The most poisonous part of the black cherry plant is the leaves, especially when damaged or wilted, but any part of the plant can produce the prussic acid that is toxic. Symptoms of black cherry poisoning include: anxiety, staggering, convulsions, collapse, difficulty breathing, and sudden death.

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Black Nightshade

Nightshade has triangular leaves with smooth edges. In the spring it boasts white, star-shaped flower clusters that give way to small, black berries. All parts of the plant are toxic. Nightshade poisoning symptoms include: nausea, salivation, abdominal pain, drowsiness, vomiting, diarrhea, respiratory distress and weakness. Nightshade poisoning can be fatal.


Another plant that can be looked at as ornamental if you don’t have animals that can ingest it is the buttercup. The leaves of the buttercup plant have three sections on each leaf, and the flowers have five petals that are glossy yellow. They grow wild, and while all parts of the plant are poisonous, the toxins are neutralized when dried, so buttercup flowers in hay will do no harm to livestock.

It’s always a good thing to get rid of buttercup plants in grazing areas; however the symptoms of ingestion are mild and are mostly gastrointestinal irritation. Most of the time, livestock will avoid it because of the immediate discomfort it causes.

The biggest problem with buttercup plants is that if the grazing is sparse, livestock may be forced to eat it, and you will have a general failure to thrive.

Some other common plants that are poisonous to livestock are:

  • Cocklebur
  • Woolly Croton
  • Wild Indigo
  • Black Locust
  • Soapwort
  • Bracken Fern
  • Field Horsetail
  • Johnsongrass
  • Mustards
  • Milkweeds
  • Poison Hemlock
  • Ohio Buckeye
  • Snow on the Mountain
  • Water Hemlock
  • Pokeweed
  • White Snakeroot

If you find any poisonous plants in a grazing area, immediately remove any livestock from the area until you are able to get rid of the plants.

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