Thursday, June 21, 2012

Poisonous Pasture Plants Part 2

You might remember my last blog about poisonous pasture plants. It's time for Part 2, where I'll show you how this spring's nasty weeds have grown, and which newly grown ones you need to worry about. Again, I'll only be showing you a select few- northern/midwestern plants that directly affect you or your horses. Most of these photos were taken directly from my pasture, so you know exactly what they look like right now. For further reading, visit your local library or try these helpful weed-identifiers from CA and WI.


They sting badly, leaving red itchy skin, but aren't poisonous. There are lots of kinds of nettles, but they all have darkish green leaves arranged in a "plus sign" shape, and the "toothy" edges of the leaves are spiky, not rounded. Evil, evil nettles! In the spring, they were sort of cute, and I even gave you a recipe for using the young plants in soups, etc. Now, however, the nettles are waist-high in places, and are more likely to cause skin rashes. Wear gloves when you're getting rid of them. If you come into contact with nettles, take an anti-histamine, soak your skin in cold water, then apply an anti-itch cream. Some horses are more affected by nettles than others-- better safe than sorry.

Wild Parsnip

WARNING: DANGEROUS! These weren't around much in spring, but now they're out in force. They look a lot like bigger, yellow versions of Queen Anne's Lace. Wild parsnip practices a horrific type of chemical warfare. Break any part of the stems, and the sap inside will react with the sunlight, causing burning, blistering and scarring on you OR your horse within 24 hours. Remove these with extreme caution by chopping them off at the root, below ground. Burning won't kill them. Chopping the stems often just spreads and sprays the sap onto you and the ground, and the plant grows back anyway.

If you or your horse is gets wild parsnip sap on you, IMMEDIATELY cover up the affected area and keep it covered for at least three days. The more the sap is exposed to daylight, the worse it's going to be. In a dark area, wash the skin with soap and water to try to remove as much sap as possible. From then on, there's not much you can do except live with the agony. Full recovery can take months. This is an excellent fact sheet, and has a lot more photographs.


Annoying, but not poisonous (you can even eat the young leaves). This is the stuff that eventually spawns those awful prickly balls that stick to your horse, saddle blanket, dog, clothes, and everything else. They actually inspired the invention of velcro. At this point in the summer, the big, tough plants look like massive rhubarbs-- but they're not. They'll continue to grow upward and outward, until they span up to four feet across and four feet high. It's best to dig these out, but chopping them will work for a good long while. The fuzzy sticker balls haven't arrived just yet, but they well, oh they will. And if you haven't killed the burdock by then, you'll be faced with tangled manes and tails all fall.

Wild Grape

This crap isn't poisonous to horses or humans (in fact, it's a delicious, if tart, survival food) but it will absolutely wreck fences. The vines wrap around electric fences, grounding them and sometimes even dragging them downwards. Even wood fences can get buried if you don't control wild grape. Worse, wild grape looks a lot like Canada Moonseed, which is toxic to both humans and horses. Kill it! It's best to catch it early, before it becomes too vine-like; at that point, it's hardy enough to grow back fairly easily. Really old wild grape vines can be an inch or two thick, and will trip horses and strangle trees. When uprooted as seedlings, however, wild grape is easy to kill. Note the heart-shaped leaves with irregular "teeth." Vines start tough and reddish, then get brown and woody.

Hemlock (Cow's Bane)

This very deadly plant is luckily not very common in pastures, but you need to watch out for it, especially if you have any water or swampy areas on your land. Any part of hemlock can be deadly to livestock or people. It should be flowering by this point. Confusingly, there are two types of Hemlock, and both resemble Queen Anne's Lace and Wild Parsnip. Time for example photos!

p.s. "Hemlock" Water Dropwort is probably the plant used in ritualistic elder poisonings and by the Joker to produce the strange death-grins. Not joking. Check it out.

                            Click Photo to Enlarge

There are many more plants, but that's probably enough stuff to fit into your brain for now. Of course, if you're feeling super-studious, you can also check out Ragweed (giant and common) and Wild Raspberry (horrible thorny, snaggy, tripping vines-- also delicious).

Oh wait, I almost forgot to mention a couple of friendly plants!

                          Catnip                                                             Pineapple Weed

Looks a bit like a nettle, but has rounded "teeth"
and fuzzy leaves. Smells strongly when crushed.
Stands knee-high in summer. Great for cats!                     

I'll do a final Part 3 in the fall. Stay tuned to North Horse... I've got a Conformation Quiz in the works, and I'm currently investigating a cruelty/neglect case near Lena, WI.

1 comment:

  1. THAT'S what catnip looks like? No wonder I'm always running strays out of my yard.