Plants are great. They’re leafy, they filter the air, and they look fantastic. Hell, we couldn’t even survive without them. They turn the carbon dioxide in our sighs into basil leaves and raspberries. And they do great things for a room, too! Whether it’s a living room or a kitchen, every room looks a little better with a little bit of mother nature.
So yes, plants are great. Well, most of them anyway. Sadly, not every plant is meant for close cohabitation with humankind. In fact, there is an astonishing array of terrifying ones that simply do not belong in houses, or anywhere near humans really. Some are smelly, some are poisonous, some are painful, and some eat bird poop (maybe that one you can stick next to your car.)
Here is a list of plants that you wouldn’t want to have in your house.
10. Giant Hogweed
Like all good plants, this leafy guy has a whole slew of entertaining colloquialisms. Along with Giant Hogweed, the plant is also known as cartwheel-flower, giant cow parsnip, and wild rhubarb. The plant’s name is reminiscent of something you’d feed a farm animal, but its sticky sap will make you squeal. Giant Hogweed sap causes Phytophotodermatitis, which means it makes skin uber-sensitive to ultraviolet light. If skin contaminated by Giant Hogweed sap comes in contact with the Sun, it can cause burns and blisters. These aren’t the usual “ouch my arm itches” types of burns, either. Giant Hogweed sap is much more toxic than poison ivy. It can cause blindness if it comes in contact with eyes, even in small quantities.
An outbreak of the weedy invasive plant in Ontario in 2012 heightened many Canadians awareness of the sap’s brutal side effects. The plant’s clear sap causes blisters and scars similar to that of a chemical burn. If that weren’t enough, chemicals in the sap called furocoumarins can cause birth defects and cancer.
9. Rosary Pea
It sounds like a friendly plant, but it can kill. It goes by many names: Indian licorice, Crab’s eye, and Jequirity, to name a few. The plant is native to Indonesia, and it’s been introduced into other tropical and subtropical regions around the world. The seed of the plant contains a toxin, known as abrin, which is similar but more deadly than the well-known toxin ricin. Interestingly, the hard red seed is harmless unless cracked open. It can actually pass through a digestive system without causing adverse health effects. But, if the toxin inside the shell is ingested, even in small amounts, it can cause vomiting, diarrhea, severe dehydration, hallucination and seizures. It can kill with a dosage of just a few micrograms.
Even with all that in mind, some artists brave the ill-effects of abrin and make jewelry out of the pretty, pretty seeds. If they’re not careful though, this could take “suffering for your art” to a whole new level.
8. Doll’s Eyes
Along with being incredibly poisonous, Doll’s Eyes are unsettling because of their resemblance to a cartoonish eyeball. Also known as white baneberry, this plant is common in northern and eastern swaths of North America. The entire plant is toxic, but the toxins are concentrated in the “eye.” The plant is carcinogenic, and causes a sedative-like effect on muscles which can often result in cardiac arrest. Birds can eat the plant without experiencing any adverse health effects, though. Lucky them.
7. Bleeding Tooth Fungus
This fungus looks like a bleeding deformed marshmallow. It produces red goo-filled blisters that contain a pigment with properties similar to heparin, the anticoagulant. The other names for this fungus include “strawberries and cream,” “red-juice tooth,” and “Devil’s Tooth.” The juice inside the blisters contains an anticoagulant called atromentin, which is similar to heparin. Atromentin, like heparin, prevents blood from clotting.
6. Gympie Gympie Tree
This plant, also known as the “stinging tree,” is native to Australia and Indonesia. The stingers, which are hollow and tipped with silica, break off in the skin. In case that doesn’t sound painful enough, the stingers contain a potent neurotoxin called Moroidin that is so strong that it has killed horses and dogs. The stinging sensation is extremely painful and can last for days or weeks. An article in Australian Geographic tells the story of an Army officer who shot himself after using a Gympie-Gympie tree leaf for “toilet purposes.” Yes, suicide was preferable to dealing with the pain of a Gympie Gympie.
5. Hydnora Africana
This luscious-lipped plant is another member of the “carrion flower” family. Which means it smells like road kill that’s been cooked onto the side of Route 69. This strange plant looks like a vagina and smells funky. While that may sound cool, you wouldn’t want this plant in your house, because this sultry pink flower emits a feral stink to attract pollinators. The plants, which are native to southern Africa, are also parasitic, attaching to the roots of plants from the Euphorbis family. The plant ensnares beatles inside its fleshy walls, and then releases them after flowering.
4. Western Skunk Cabbage
What’s that smell? Is that a skunk? No, it’s skunk cabbage, also known as swamp lantern. Skunk Cabbage is native to the Pacific Northwest, and thrives in swampy areas. Some native tribes of the Pacific Northwest used the broad leaves to wrap salmon or line baskets for berry-picking. Also, the roots of skunk cabbage contain a chemical called calcium oxalate, which causes a burning sensation in the mouth when ingested. Amazingly, Skunk Cabbage flowers produce heat in a chemical reaction that helps the plant melt through ice and snow in the spring.
3. Jumping Cholla
This is not a dance move. Not yet anyway. This is actually a cactus native to the southwest United States and northern Mexico. Its name refers to the plant’s tendency to “jump out” and attack you. When brushed against, the stems detach easily, giving the impression that the stems leapt out. A cholla spine has microscopic barbs, which makes removal hellish. Basically, imagine a thousand tiny little treble hooks, and you’ve got yourself an idea.
2. Nepenthes Lowii
This tropical pitcher plant lives in Borneo. It has a stomach filled with acidic digestive juices. Because it lives in a nutrient-poor region, it must obtain nitrogen and other nutrients from animals that fall into the pitchers. The inside of the pitcher is covered in a waxy surface that causes insects to slip and fall to the depths of the pitcher, where they become digested, Sarlacc-style. Along with catching insects, the pitcher plant eats bird and tree shrew droppings too. It catches the droppings from the trees above, and supplements its diet with the extracted nitrogen.
1. Corpse Flower
In addition to being the largest flower on earth, this plant is a member of the ill-fated “carrion flower” family. When in bloom, the scent is said to resemble that of a human corpse. The scientific nomenclature for the plant is Amorphophallus titanum, or “misshapen giant phallus.” The plant is native to Sumatra island in Indonesia. The plant uses the rotting smell to attract the insects that pollinate it. The blooms are ephemeral, lasting sometimes only a day or less.