Plants are fundamental to our existence on Earth. They produce the oxygen we breathe, provide the basis of our entire food chain and regulate our water cycle. However, for something so fundamental, they can be incredibly deadly.

There are hundreds, if not thousands of poisonous plants in the world. On average, 2.4% of the US population is exposed to poisonous plants every year. In 2007, the Guinness World Records awarded the title of ‘World’s Most Poisonous Plant’ to the castor plant, Ricinus communis. It is a flowering plant in the spurge family, and it is indigenous to the south-eastern Mediterranean, Eastern Africa and India. It contains the toxin ricin, which when ingested can cause nausea, diarrhoea, tachycardia and seizures – eventually culminating in death. A dose as small as five beans can be fatal to an adult, and when purified, a dose as small as a few grains of table salt could be enough to kill. Death usually occurs within three to five days.

Despite its toxicity, the castor oil plant is commonplace around the world. Although it is only indigenous to more tropical climates, it has been planted extensively as a decorative plant in parks and other public areas throughout the world. However, this is no reason to worry. If the seeds are consumed whole, they may pass through the digestive tract without releasing any of the toxin. The by-product of the plant, the castor oil itself, is not poisonous. It has a wide variety of uses and has been used by humans throughout history. In fact, use of the castor oil plant dates back to 4000BC and the Ancient Egyptians, and castor beans are often used in order to make jewellery such as bracelets and necklaces to this day.

This is just a single example of one poisonous plant among many, many hundreds of others. However, it serves to emphasise the point that although plants are a major part of the reason that our existence is possible, they are not always completely beneficial.

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Daily Prompt: Vegetal


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