Into the Outdoors: Pretty, but Toxic and Sometimes Deadly


As I was pondering this week’s column, I got to thinking that something a little off beat might be nice for once. I did some research, and came up with some things in nature that are pretty, but toxic and sometimes deadly. I am not confining it to things found around here, but in other parts of the country and world, too. I hope you find it interesting.

Let’s start with some familiar stuff. That would be the Rhus group of plants, consisting of poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac. Poison ivy is really pretty to look at. With it’s deep green leaves, when you see it climbing a wall or fence, the temptation to touch it can be strong. Don’t do it. Everyone is susceptible. Folks who think they don’t get it can suddenly find themselves dealing with a fierce outbreak.

Then, we have the nightshade. Once again the plants are pretty and the berries, especially when ripe, look enticing. They are, however, highly toxic. Most adults know better, but little kids sometimes eat them with catastrophic results.

I don’t think anyone enjoys eating mushrooms more than I do. I have a number of books dealing with mushroom identification, but I still don’t have enough confidence to pick them. Some of the most beautifully colored are also the most poison, even deadly. The only ones I ever collect are sheepsheads. They are not pretty, but they are delicious and easy to identify.

Most of us enjoy elderberry wine, jelly, pie etc. While they look lovely, the raw berries contain a severe toxin, which the body turns into cyanide. The leaves, and all other parts of the plant are also dangerous. Make absolutely, positively sure to prepare them properly before consuming them.

As mentioned earlier, we are also going to look at some poisonous beauties that are not native to this area. After all, a lot of people like to go on vacations to exotic places, which contain their own set of hazards. Beaches are where the most injuries seem to occur.

One of the nastiest of all beach creatures is the cone snail. These are some of the most venomous creatures on the planet. What might look like just a beautiful shell, might contain a living resident. If that’s the case, it can extend a proboscis that it uses to envenomate and paralyze prey. The large ones are the most deadly. Someone with a truly dark sense of humor labeled them”the cigarette snail,” as the time between the bite and death is about enough time to smoke a cigarette.

Another beautiful, but deadly, beach dweller is the blue ringed octopus. As far as octopi go, it is really tiny. Its body is covered with rings that can change colors, depending, I guess, on its mood. Its bite is so gentle that the victim sometimes doesn’t even know that they have been bitten until it’s too late.

I hope you enjoyed this look at what could be called “toxic beauty.” It seemed like an interesting topic.

On a happier side, as this is being written, the forecast calls for a nice weekend. My son and I have a panfishing trip planned to a pond where we have always done well. We are looking forward to some fresh, tasty filets.

It almost seems as though spring is not coming this year, but it certainly will. It is exciting to think of all the fun outdoor activities it will bring with it.

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