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BUTTERCUP (RANUNCULUS SPECIES)

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Buttercups are familiar wildflowers, favouring open waste ground and acidic soils throughout Nova Scotia, not to mention the middle of the back lawn. Their irritant qualities are probably the basis of the children’s game in which one child presses a buttercup to the sensitive skin just below the chin, “to see if you like butter.” The slight redness caused by such casual contact is supposed, in the game, to indicate a butter lover.

Prolonged contact can have more uncomfortable results. The breakdown of a glycoside releases a blister-inducing juice, found in many species while fresh.

Generally buttercups have yellow cup-like flowers and deeply divided leaves, which may or may not be fuzzy.


POISON LOCATION

Sap, flowers, seeds, and leaves of all members, with the greatest concentration of the toxin occurring in vigorous growth shoots. Dried plant material is usually harmless.


POISON TYPE

Buttercups and clematis: Glycoside, a severe skin irritant.

Monkshood, delphinium, marsh marigold, baneberry, and larkspur: Highly toxic alkaloids.


TYPICAL POISONING SCENARIO

Contact with and/or consumption of leaves or flowers by livestock or by children who are attracted by the often-showy flowers. In the case of buttercups and clematis, the strong, acrid taste deters further consumption, so fatalities are rare. The poisons in monkshood, delphinium, marsh marigold, baneberry, and larkspur, however, are very much more potent, so ingestion of a small quantity is dangerous.

Another possible cause of poisoning by this group of plants is the abuse of herbal medicines prepared from them. These medicines are almost never taken internally and even when used externally can cause skin irritation.


SYMPTOMS

Buttercups and Clematis typically cause irritation and blistering of the skin if handled, and- if swallowed- intense burning of the mouth and digestive tract, followed by nausea and convulsions. Luckily, the stuff tastes so bad that victims rarely get to this state, but gardeners should be sure to wear gloves before weeding the buttercups or planting out clematis!

The Alkaloid In Monkshood, Delphiniums, Baneberry And Larkspur causes burning of the mouth and throat, confusion, dizziness, headaches and vomiting. In severe poisoning, breathing difficulty, then paralysis, are followed by convulsions and Death from asphyxiation and circulatory failure. However, most victims do recover within 24 hours.


BUTTERCUP POISON INFORMATION

Glycosides

Glycosides are toxins in which at least one sugar molecule is linked with oxygen to another compound, often nitrogen-based. They become harmful when the sugar molecule is stripped off, as in the process of digestion.


SEE ALSO

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