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Cowbane

Cowbane

Cowbane

Cowbane poisoning will be diagnosed based on symptoms and a history of ingestion. Specialized blood tests can determine the presence of cicutoxin in the blood, but given the swift onset of symptoms, this is not usually used as a diagnostic method. Retaining a sample of the plant for identification is the best way to ensure a swift diagnosis, but care should be taken to avoid exposure. Wash your hands after handling and don’t touch your mouth or face. Use gloves if possible. If you think your dog may have eaten cowbane or another cicuta species, you should call a veterinarian or a poison helpline immediately. Be prepared to describe the plant exactly as well as give your dog’s breed and weight and an estimate of how much you think was ingested. Cowbane and other cicuta species grow wild in wetlands, fields or along the banks of streams. They are a hazard for livestock if they get into a field, but they are also dangerous for dogs out for a walk or anyone else who doesn’t recognize the plant. The lethal dose is extremely low. As little as a single bite of root, root stem, or early spring leaves could be enough to kill an animal, depending on weight. Cicutoxin is a neurotoxin which stimulates the central nervous system almost immediately. Excessive salivation, vomiting and seizures can occur from 15 minutes to 6 hours after ingestion. Death often takes place within a few hours, so treatment may be difficult. Immediate treatment can reduce absorption and control the severity of symptoms, but cowbane poisoning doesn’t have a high rate of recovery.:Cowbane (also called northern water hemlock or McKenzie’s water hemlock) is the common name for Cicuta virosa, one of four species of cicuta plants that are highly toxic. It is found in parts of Europe and northern Asia, as well as northwestern North America. The cicuta species are considered the most poisonous plants in North America. Reportedly, Native Americans used to dip their arrows in poison extracted from the root to make them more deadly. The main toxin in cowbane and other cicuta species is cicutoxin, a yellow colored retinoid found in strongest concentration in the root.

Toxic root juices are said to smell like parsnip when cut, accounting for one of the plants many common names, poison parsnip. The root is toxic all year long. The early shoots in spring are also highly toxic, however during summer and fall the woody stem and larger leaves contain much less cicutoxin. Cowbane is the type species for other cicuta; it grows from 3-7 feet (1 to 2 meters) tall with leaves that are about 15 inches (38 cm) long placed alternately on each side of the stem. Three pairs of pointed oval leaflets branch on either side of the leaf stem (in botanical language this is described as tri-pinnately compound). The tiny white flowers are arranged in umbrella shaped clusters that are 1-4 inches (2.5-10 cm) across. Each flower has 5 petals and 5 stamen.Cowbane, which is more commonly known as water hemlock, poison parsnip, or poison parsley, is often referred to as the most violently toxic plant in the United States. Cowbane is considered a natural wildflower and prefers wet areas, such as irrigation ditches, marshes, damp areas in pastures, and riverbanks. Cowbane contains the toxins cicutoxin and cicutol, which affect the neurons in the brain and central nervous system. All parts of the plant are poisonous, with the roots containing the highest concentration of the toxin. It is highly poisonous to horses, and only takes about 0.2 to 2 lbs hemlock root per 1,000 lbs of a horse’s body weight to cause death. Clinical signs include drooling, dilated pupils, weakness, agitation, nervousness, twitching, seizures, cardiac abnormalities, difficult breathing, and death from respiratory paralysis. Cowbane is another wetland species in the Carrot family that is toxic and should not be eaten. It resembles many other species in this family by its compound umbels of small white flowers and compound leaves. These species are distinguished from each other primarily by the structure and appearance of their compound leaves and leaflets, the presence or absence of floral bracts, and the shape of their seeds. Cowbane differs from other similar species in Illinois by the following combination of features: 1) its compound leaves are simple-pinnate, usually with 5-9 leaflets, and 2) its leaflets are either toothless or sparingly dentate with up to 7 widely spaced teeth on each side of a leaflet. Other similar species have double-pinnate leaves, or their simple pinnate leaves tend to have more leaflets, or their leaflets have more abundant serrated teeth that are closely spaced together. Cowbane's leaflets are unusually variable in their width across different populations. Plants with narrow linear leaflets (4 mm. across or less) have been described as var. ambigua. (Source: www.illinoiswildflowers.info)

 

 

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