Alaska's Poisonous Plants! | Alaska Centers (2022)

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Alaska's Poisonous Plants! | Alaska Centers (1)

In Alaska we can tons of edible and delicious plant life, but there are a number of plants with potentially harmful effects too. It is essential for any outdoor adventurer to be aware of their presence and prepare a plan in the case of emergency. Many poisonous plants can strongly resemble an edible plant at first glance. One safety tactic is to teach children to stay away from all berries. Make sure an adult decides that a berry is safe before taking a bite. A good rule is to not eat anything in the wild unless you can positively identify it without question. It is also suggested to always travel into Alaska's backcountry with a regional guidebook or plant and berry species index.

Part of the fun of berry picking is exploring rural Alaska foliage. This type of wilderness is also home to many other critters. It is easy to stumble upon a bear enjoying a berry snack as well. Make sure you make a lot of noise to alert the bears of your presence and know how to handle an encounter with ease. Be aware of all wilderness elements in Alaska for the best experience possible!

Get more information on bear safety!

Baneberry / Snake Berry / Doll’s Eyes

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Alaska's Poisonous Plants! | Alaska Centers (2)

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  • Scientific Name: Actaea rubra (Interior) Actaea arguta (coastal)
  • Habitat: Woods and dry hillsides
  • Leaves: This deciduous plant has a single stock. The leaves are large 3 to 5-parted, finely toothed, and narrow-pointed. Appearance and width of leaves change radically with the season: narrow and crinkled in the spring, broad in the summer.
  • Flowers: In May and June, small white clusters appear above the leaves.
  • Fruit: In July and August, a red or white, opaque, shiny berry develops with a black dot at the end.Each berry also has its own elongated stem.
  • Effects: The berries are poisonous and will often send the heart into cardiac arrest.

Black Twinberry / Bearberry Honeysuckle

  • Scientific Name: Lonicera involucrata
  • Habitat: This plant prefers moist woods in a few scattered spots in Southeastern Alaska.
  • Leaves: Black Twinberry is a deciduous shrub that stands up to 6 feet tall, is lance-shaped, and has leaves up to 5 inches long.
  • Flowers: In June the leaves are yellow, tubular, and grow in pairs.
  • Fruit: In August, black, soft, round berries form.
  • Effects: Though the berries can be edible, they are not tasty and the plant is notorious for absorbing toxins from the ground and nearby water. Some people may have a higher sensitivity to the absorbed toxins with a range of varied symptoms.

Devil’s Club

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  • Scientific Name: Oplopanax horridus
  • Habitat: This plant grows in moist forest habitats, and is most abundant in conifer forests.
  • Leaves: The leaves are spirally arranged on the stems and are 8 to 16 inches across. The plant grows up to almost 5 feet tall. The spines are found covering the stems as well as along the upper and lower surfaces of veins of its leaves.
  • Flowers: The flowers are produced in dense clusters or umbels 4 to 8 inches in diameter, each flower is small, with five greenish-white petals.
  • Fruit: The fruits are small red berries with pits about .25 inches in diameter that grow in clusters (drupes).
  • Effects: The plant is painful to the touch due to the numerous spines that break off easily. Furthermore, consumption of the drupes is believed to be fairly toxic to humans.

Queen’s Cup / Blue Bead / Single-Flowered Clintonia

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  • Scientific Name: Clintonia uniflora
  • Habitat: This plant grows in moist forests at lower elevations.
  • Leaves: The leaves are 3 to 6 inches long. Each plant has 3 fleshy leaves with hairy edges.
  • Flowers: In June, white flowers appear that are about 1 inch in diameter with 6 tepals.
  • Fruit: In August, the plant develops a blue berry.
  • Effects: Though eaten regularly by birds and animals, the berry may be toxic to people. Considering the berry is not palatable anyway, it is best to consider this berry inedible.

Red-Twig Dogwood / Red-Osier Dogwood

  • Scientific Name: Cornus stolonifera
  • Habitat: Red-Twig Dogwood grows at the edges of moist land or lakes at low elevations.
  • Leaves: This is a deciduous shrub that grows 5 to 15 feet tall. It contains elliptical or oval leaves that are dark green on top and somewhat hairy below.
  • Flowers: In June, the shrub produces flowers that are white, with four small green sepals.
  • Fruit: In August, the shrub produces a small white berry that is soft and has a small spot at the end.
  • Effects: The berry is bitter, considered inedible, and will cause minor irritation if ingested.

Snowberry / Waxberry

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  • Scientific Name: Symphoricarpos albus
  • Habitat: Snowberry grows in woodlands at lower elevations
  • Leaves: This is a deciduous shrub that grows to 4 feet in height. The leaves are oval, and grow up to 3 inches in length. The leaves grow on opposite sides of a stem and are dark green above, and white beneath.
  • Flowers: In June, the flowers are pink and white, small, and bell-shaped.
  • Fruit: In August, the plant develops berries that are white, round, soft and opaque.
  • Effects: Although the berry is an important winter food source for some birds, it is considered poisonous to humans. The berries contain alkaloids that cause mild symptoms of vomiting and dizziness.

Arrowgrass

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  • Scientific Name: Triglochin maritima
  • Habitat: Arrowgrass prefers several types of moist soil and can grow in water. It can tolerate strong wind, but not maritime exposure. Prefers salt marshes and grassy areas near the sea.
  • Leaves: This plant usually grows 6-18 inches tall, but the slender flower stalks may reach 5 feet.
  • Flowers: Small, green flowers appear close together along the upper part of the stalk early in the season. Later, the flowers develop into golden-brown.
  • Fruit: Not applicable.
  • Effects: When Arrowgrass is dry, it contains hydrocyanic acid which, when ingested in quantity, can result in death from respiratory failure.

Cow Parsnip

  • Scientific Name: Heracleum maximum
  • Habitat: This plant grows in moist, shaded habitats and can thrive in multiple types of soil.
  • Leaves: Cow Parsnip is a tall herb, reaching to heights of over two meters. The leaves are very large, up to 18 inches across and divided into lobes.
  • Flowers: Cow Parsnip has characteristic flower umbels that are about 20 cm across; these may be flat-topped or more rounded, and are always white.
  • Fruit: Not Applicable
  • Effects: The sap of this plant contains various phototoxic chemicals that can make the skin (especially light skin) extremely sensitive to sunlight and more prone to sunburn. Skin contact with juice from the plant followed by exposure to sunlight can cause dermatitis, which can range from a mild, red rash to severe skin blistering. Simply avoid touching the plant with bare skin by wearing long sleeves and long pants.

Death Camas

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  • Scientific Name: Anticlea elegans
  • Habitat: Death Camas grows in areas along streams and in forest clearings and meadows from about 6000 to 12000 feet in the mountains.
  • Leaves: The leaves are linear, smooth, and have parallel veins.
  • Flowers: The flowers appear saucerlike, with 6 white petals and 6 stamen. The flowers spiral around the stalk (raceme).
  • Fruit: Not applicable
  • Effects: The effects of the toxic alkaloids may appear from 1-8 hours after eating the plant. Recovery usually occurs within 24 hours. Symptoms include excessive salivation, burning and numbness of the lips and mouth, thirst, headache, dizziness, nausea, stomach pain, persistent vomiting, diarrhea, muscular weakness, confusion, slow and irregular heartbeat, low blood pressure, subnormal body temperature.

Skunk Cabbage

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  • Scientific Name: Lysichiton americanum
  • Habitat: Skunk Cabbage is found in wet woodlands and meadows.
  • Leaves: The leaves are large, thick, and can grow up to 40 inches in length. These plants are often associated with a strong odor similar to a skunk.
  • Flowers: From April to June, these plants are small and yellow on a thick spike surrounded by a large yellow spathe.
  • Fruit: In August, these plants are green, soft, and sparse.
  • Effects: Considered inedible, Skunk Cabbage contains poisonous acids that can irritate the gastrointestinal system.

Wild Calla

  • Scientific Name: Calla palustris
  • Habitat: This plant can be found in shallow water along the edges of lakes and slow-moving streams.
  • Leaves: The leaves are heart-shaped on a thick stem that grow from creeping rootstocks. The leaves are thick and shiny.
  • Flowers: In June and July, very small green flowers develop on a dense spike atop a large white heart-shaped spathe.
  • Fruit: In August, this plant forms a soft red berry.
  • Effects: The entire plant contains poisonous acids and saponin-like substances that will irritate the mouth and throat and can cause severe swelling.

Resources

  • Pratt, Verna E. Alaska's Wild Berries and Berry-like Fruit. Anchorage, AK: Alaskakrafts, 1995. Print.
  • Tilford, Gregory L. Edible and Medicinal Plants of the West. Missoula, MT: Mountain Pub., 1997. Print.
  • Welcome to the PLANTS Database | USDA PLANTS. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Aug. 2012. .

FAQs

Is there any poisonous plants in Alaska? ›

The most infamous poisonous berry in Alaska is the baneberry (Actaea rubra). Baneberries look a lot like highbush cranberries so look closely. The berries are often red, but can be white, with a black dot on the end.

What is the most poisonous plant in Alaska? ›

Botanists consider water hemlock the most poisonous plant in North America. Just a bite of the root will kill a human. Both water and poison hemlock grow in Alaska, and both are deadly poisonous. Both species inhabit wet areas such as marshes, streams, and moist meadows.

Where are poisonous plants located? ›

One or more of the most common poisonous plant species are found throughout the United States (except Alaska and Hawaii). These plants can be found in forests, fields, wetlands and along streams, road sides, and even in urban environments, such as, parks and backyards.

Does poison ivy exist in Alaska? ›

Poisons ivy and poison oak are found in all other states except Alaska. Alaska does have cow parsnip. The bruised leaves of this large perennial can leave a chemical on the skin that makes it very sensitive to the sun.

Where is poison sumac located? ›

Poison sumac grows in wet, swamp-like areas in the eastern U.S. It is often found in wetlands and along the banks of ponds, streams, and rivers. It can only grow in wet and clay soil and is rarer than poison ivy or oak.

Are watermelon berries poisonous? ›

Watermelon berries are totally edible and taste lightly of watermelon.

What is the difference between poison hemlock and water hemlock? ›

Poison hemlock is a much larger plant than wild carrot. Water hemlock has a spotted stem like poison hemlock, but is a perennial that produces a cluster of fleshy tubers at crown, and the leaflets are not finely divided like poison hemlock.

Are devil's club berries edible? ›

These berries are not edible by humans but bears do eat them. Bears dont seem bothered by the plants thick armor of spines. The roots and shoots of Devils club are edible. The shoots are only edible for the first few days after they appear in early spring, however.

What does water hemlock look like? ›

Water hemlock has small, white flowers that grow in umbrella like clusters. Side veins of the leaves lead to notches, not to tips at the outer margin. The thick rootstalk of water hemlock contains a number of small chambers.

What plant can paralyze you? ›

Deadly Nightshade (Atropa belladonna)

Nightshade contains atropine and scopolamine in its stems, leaves, berries, and roots, and causes paralysis in the involuntary muscles of the body, including the heart.

Where is the world's deadliest garden? ›

Known to be the world's 'deadliest' garden, The Poison Garden in England has plants that can kill you. Located at Alnwick in Northumberland, this garden has over 100 varieties of dangerous plants.

What happens if hemlock touches your skin? ›

If plant juices contact skin and the skin is then exposed to sunlight (specifically ultraviolet light), severe blistering can occur, as well as skin discoloration that may last several months.

Does Alaska have snakes? ›

The common garter snake is the only species of snake to be found in Alaska, and is one of the northernmost species of snake in the world, possibly second only to the Crossed Viper.

What is Fireweed in Alaska? ›

What is Fireweed? Fireweed is a plant that grows natively throughout the northern hemisphere in temperate areas, including the boreal forest. Its name comes from the fact that it is one of the first species to come into an area affected by a forest fire. In Alaska, Fireweed blooms purportedly predict the first snow.

Are there ticks in Alaska? ›

Ticks can come to Alaska on dogs, and on farm animals like cows and horses. Dog, deer and moose ticks aren't native to Alaska, but could survive here if introduced. There is one native species, generally found on squirrels and hares. “We have had them come up on people,” Beckmen said.

Where is poison ivy found in Canada? ›

Poison ivy can be found in every province except Newfoundland. It grows on sandy, stony, or rocky shores, and sprouts in thickets, in clearings, and along the borders of woods and roadsides.

Where does poison oak grow in Canada? ›

Poison oak is rare in Canada, but it can be found in remote areas on the east coast of Vancouver Island and some nearby islands.

What should I do if I touched poison sumac? ›

Topic Overview. If you have contact with poison ivy, oak, or sumac, immediately wash areas of the skin that may have touched the plant. Sometimes the resulting rash (contact dermatitis) can be completely avoided by washing the affected areas with plenty of water and soap (such as dishwashing soap) or rubbing alcohol.

Can I eat wild watermelon? ›

Beside eating or preserving the non-bitter flesh, the seeds are edible as well. They can be dried or roasted or ground into a paste and made into a meal with many applications. The leaves and flowers can be cooked and eaten as a vegetable.

What are the red berries in Alaska? ›

Baneberries (Actaea rubra) are the only toxic berry in Alaska. A perennial, averaging 1 1/2 to 3 1/2 feet in height, with toothed, compound leaves and clusters of shiny red or white berries with a black dot at the end. Fruits are extremely bitter. All parts of the plant are toxic. Ingestion can cause death!

Is a pumpkin a berry? ›

It turns out that blackberries, mulberries, and raspberries are not berries at all, but bananas, pumpkins, avocados and cucumbers are. So what makes a berry? Well, a berry has seeds and pulp (properly called “pericarp”) that develop from the ovary of a flower.

What happens if I touch water hemlock? ›

The alkaloids can affect nerve impulse transmission to your muscles, eventually killing you through respiratory failure. Even touching this plant may cause a skin reaction in some people. To date, there is no antidote.

How many people have died from hemlock? ›

least 58 persons in the United States died after ingesting a poisonous plant that was misidentified as an edible fruit or vegetable; inadvertent ingestion of water hemlock, as in the two cases in this report, caused at least five of these deaths.

What does the water hemlock do to humans? ›

The plant is poisonous at all stages of development and is most toxic in the spring. Poisonings typically result from ingestions; however, cicutoxin also may be absorbed through the skin. Mild toxicity from water hemlock produces nausea, abdominal pain, and epigastric distress within 15-90 minutes.

What happens when you touch devil's club? ›

Devil's club grows 1-3 metres tall and has crooked stems covered in hard yellow spines. It has large broad leaves with many spines on the underside. If the plant is touched, the spines can break off and cause infection.

How do I remove Devil's Club thorns from my skin? ›

After skin contact, immediately remove the prickles with tweezers and wash the skin carefully with soap and water. Application of an anti-inflammatory cream (e.g., a 0.5% hydrocortisone cream) may reduce skin irritation. These creams are available in most pharmacy stores. If a rash develops, consult a physician.

What part of devils club is poisonous? ›

Hazards. Toxic Berries: The acrid berries of devil's club are TOXIC for humans, but bears eat them. Large & Sharp Spines: Use caution when hiking near devil's club, as the spines can cause festering wounds. The plant is densely armed with spikes and these spikes are irritant[200PFAF].

Are there poisonous plants in the Arctic? ›

Can I eat it?” I learned that there are no poisonous plants in the Arctic. I wanted to taste them all. After watching my reactions with amusement, Carolyn humoured me by telling me which plants are traditionally eaten (and which aren't) as I grazed and photographed my way across the North.

Is there hemlock in Alaska? ›

Distribution. Western hemlock is the most abundant tree species grown in Southeast Alaska. It is native to the Pacific coast region from southern Alaska (Kenai Peninsula) southeast through southeastern Alaska and western British Columbia to western Washington, western Oregon and northwestern California.

Does Alaska have snakes? ›

The common garter snake is the only species of snake to be found in Alaska, and is one of the northernmost species of snake in the world, possibly second only to the Crossed Viper.

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