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Notes on poisoning: death camas


General poisoning notes:

Death camas (Zigadenus venenosus) is a native perennial herb that is found from British Columbia to southwestern Saskatchewan. The plant is one of the most toxic springtime plants, especially to sheep. Cattle and horses are also occasionally poisoned. Swine vomit the plant so readily that no natural cases of poisoning have been reported. Poultry may also be poisoned, although there are no reported cases. Honey bees are poisoned by the nectar and pollen (Kingsbury 1964, Barker 1978; Panter and James 1989). Humans have also been poisoned after ingesting the bulbs, which were mistaken for other plants such as onions (Allium spp.) or camas (Camassia quamash). Ingesting the flowers and flower buds has caused poisoning in children (Cameron 1952, Spoerke and Spoerke 1979). These plants should be considered poisonous to all livestock and humans.

References:

Barker, R. J. 1980. Poisoning by plants. Pages 275-296 in Morse, R. A., ed. Honey bee pests, predators, and diseases. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, N.Y., USA. 430 pp.

Cameron, K. 1952. Death camas poisoning. Northwest Med., 1952: 682-683.

Dayton, W. A. 1960. Notes on western range forbes. U. S. For. Serv. Wash. Agric. Hand., 161. 254 pp.

Kingsbury, J. M. 1964. Poisonous plants of the United States and Canada. Prentice-Hall Inc., Englewood Cliffs, N.J., USA. 626 pp.

Long, R. 1981. Some liliaceae of British Columbia. Davidsonia, 12: 85-88.

Panter, K. E., James, L. F. 1989. Death camas-early grazing can be hazardous. Rangelands, 11: 147-149.

Spoerke, D. G., Spoerke, S. E. 1979. Three cases of Zigadenus (death camas) poisoning. Vet. Hum. Toxicol., 21: 346-347.

Nomenclature:

Scientific Name: Zigadenus venenosus S. Wats.

Vernacular name(s): death camas

Scientific family name: Liliaceae

Vernacular family name: lily

Go to ITIS*ca for more taxonomic information on: Zigadenus venenosus

References:

Agriculture Quebec. 1975. Noms des maladies des plantes du Canada/ Names of plant diseases in Canada. , Quebec City, Que., Canada. 288 pp.

Alex, J. F., Cayouette, R., Mulligan, G. A. 1980. Common and botanical names of weeds in Canada/Noms populaire et scientifiques des plantes nuisibles du Canada. Revised. Agric. Can. Publ., Ottawa, Ont., Canada. 132 pp.

Bailey, L. H., Bailey, E. Z. 1976. Hortus third. Revised. MacMillan, New York, N.Y., USA. 1290 pp.

Scoggan, H. J. 1978, 1979. The flora of Canada. Nat. Mus. Nat. Sci. (Ottawa) Publ. Bot. 7(1)-7(4). 1711 pp.

Van Wijk, H. L. 1911. A dictionary of plant names. Martinus Nijhoff, The Hague, The Netherlands. 1444 pp.

Victorin, M. 1964. Flore Laurentienne. 2nd ed. Univ. Montreal, Montreal, Que., Canada. 952 pp.

Geographic Information

Alberta
British Columbia
Saskatchewan

References:

Bailey, L. H., Bailey, E. Z. 1976. Hortus third. Revised. MacMillan, New York, N.Y., USA. 1290 pp.

Boivin, B. 1966, 1967. Énumération des plantes du Canada. Provencheria 6. Nat. Can. (Que.) 93: 253-274; 371-437; 583-646; 989-1063. 94: 131-157; 471-528; 625-655.

Image or illustration

death camas:

Images: images.google.com

Notes on Poisonous plant parts:

All parts of death camas contain toxic alkaloids, with the bulbs containing the most. The bulbs may be pulled up by animals when the ground is wet or may be ingested by humans who mistake them for other plants, such as onions. The nectar and pollen are poisonous to bees. Most cases of animal poisoning occur in spring, when other forage is not plentiful (Kingsbury 1964, Barker 1978).

Toxic parts:

all parts
bulbs
flowers
leaves
pollen

References:

Barker, R. J. 1980. Poisoning by plants. Pages 275-296 in Morse, R. A., ed. Honey bee pests, predators, and diseases. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, N.Y., USA. 430 pp.

Kingsbury, J. M. 1964. Poisonous plants of the United States and Canada. Prentice-Hall Inc., Englewood Cliffs, N.J., USA. 626 pp.

Notes on Toxic plant chemicals:

Steroidal alkaloids, including zygacine, have been found in these plants. Death camas is considered to be the most toxic members of the genus Zigadenus. The average minimum lethal dose in sheep is estimated to be equal to ingesting 0.6-2.0% of an animal''s body weight in plant material (Kingsbury 1964).

Toxic plant chemicals:

zygacine
Image of zygacine

Chemical diagram(s) are courtesy of Ruth McDiarmid, Biochemistry Technician, Kamloops Range Station, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Kamploops, British Columbia, Canada.

References:

Kingsbury, J. M. 1964. Poisonous plants of the United States and Canada. Prentice-Hall Inc., Englewood Cliffs, N.J., USA. 626 pp.

Animals/Human Poisoning:

Note: When an animal is listed without additional information, the literature (as of 1993) contained no detailed explanation.

Cattle

General symptoms of poisoning:

ataxia
death
dyspnea
nausea
prostration
salivation
trembling

Notes on poisoning:

Cattle are occasionally poisoned by death camas. Symptoms are very similar to those for other livestock. Salivation is sometimes less and nausea greater than in sheep. Other symptoms include muscular weakness, ataxia, trembling, prostration, and death. The heart action becomes weakened (Kingsbury 1964).

References:

Kingsbury, J. M. 1964. Poisonous plants of the United States and Canada. Prentice-Hall Inc., Englewood Cliffs, N.J., USA. 626 pp.

Honey bees

General symptoms of poisoning:

death

Notes on poisoning:

In field cases, adult bees died after foraging on this plant. In experiments, both the nectar and pollen, collected by centrifugation, poisoned the bees. The plants bloom for only a couple of weeks and secrete little nectar. Solitary native bees seem less affected by the toxins (Barker 1978).

References:

Barker, R. J. 1980. Poisoning by plants. Pages 275-296 in Morse, R. A., ed. Honey bee pests, predators, and diseases. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, N.Y., USA. 430 pp.

Horses

General symptoms of poisoning:

colic
depression
diarrhea
salivation

Notes on poisoning:

Horses have been poisoned after ingesting hay containing immature seed pods of death camas. The symptoms of illness included colic, salivation, cramping, depression, and intermittent diarrhea (Fuller and McClintock 1986).

References:

Fuller, T. C., McClintock, E. 1986. Poisonous plants of California. Univ. California Press, Berkeley, Calif., USA. 432 pp.

Humans

General symptoms of poisoning:

blood pressure, low
breathing, shallow
coma
death
diarrhea
drowsiness
pupil dilation
vomiting

Notes on poisoning:

Humans have been poisoned after ingesting the bulbs and flowers. In most cases, the bulbs are mistaken for onions. A 2-year-old child became ill after eating the blossoms. Symptoms of poisoning include vomiting, slow breathing, unconsciousness (though responsive to pain or movement), hyperactive tendons and limbs, pupil dilation, and hypotension. The alkaloids cause local irritation when ingested and affect the cardiovascular system by slowing the heart and decreasing blood pressure. Treatment includes emesis, activated charcoal, and saline cathartic. Atropine was also given (Cameron 1952, Spoerke and Spoerke 1979).

References:

Cameron, K. 1952. Death camas poisoning. Northwest Med., 1952: 682-683.

Long, R. 1981. Some liliaceae of British Columbia. Davidsonia, 12: 85-88.

Spoerke, D. G., Spoerke, S. E. 1979. Three cases of Zigadenus (death camas) poisoning. Vet. Hum. Toxicol., 21: 346-347.

Poultry

General symptoms of poisoning:

coma
death
diarrhea
incoordination
prostration

Notes on poisoning:

In one case (with an related species of Zigadenus), poultry were poisoned. Symptoms included diarrhea, staggering gait, incoordination, prostration, and coma. Many birds died (Kingsbury 1964). Death camas can also poison poultry if they ingest the tender shoots.

References:

Kingsbury, J. M. 1964. Poisonous plants of the United States and Canada. Prentice-Hall Inc., Englewood Cliffs, N.J., USA. 626 pp.

Sheep

General symptoms of poisoning:

breathing, shallow
cyanosis
death
mouth, frothing of
muscle, weakness of
nasal discharge
prostration
salivation
urination, frequent
vomiting

Notes on poisoning:

Death camas is considered to be one of the most toxic plants on the western rangelands, and ingestion causes greater loss of life of sheep than any other plant in springtime. Symptoms include excessive salivation, nausea, frothing at the nose and mouth, vomiting, increased urination and defecation, muscular weakness, ataxia, prostration, and death resulting from heart failure. Postmortem examination shows the heart in complete diastole. Coma may occur for a few hours to several days before death. Lesions include severe pulmonary congestion, edema, and hemorrhage. Losses occur most frequently in the spring, when other forage is not plentiful (Long 1981, Panter and James 1989).

References:

Dayton, W. A. 1960. Notes on western range forbes. U. S. For. Serv. Wash. Agric. Hand., 161. 254 pp.

Long, R. 1981. Some liliaceae of British Columbia. Davidsonia, 12: 85-88.

Panter, K. E., James, L. F. 1989. Death camas-early grazing can be hazardous. Rangelands, 11: 147-149.

Swine

General symptoms of poisoning:

diarrhea
vomiting

Notes on poisoning:

Experiments show that swine are susceptible to the poisons, but cases of poisoning are not encountered under natural conditions because swine readily expel the material by vomiting (Kingsbury 1964).

References:

Kingsbury, J. M. 1964. Poisonous plants of the United States and Canada. Prentice-Hall Inc., Englewood Cliffs, N.J., USA. 626 pp.

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Date modified: 2009-09-01