Dogbane: the Toxic Plant You Didn’t Know About

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Many plants contain some level of toxin. For instance, the common garden rhododendron and the azalea contain andromedatoxin. Consuming these plants can cause death. Most people know not to consume them.

However, there are other plants not as well known that animal owners in particular should be aware of. The pretty dogbane is one of the most common causes of poisoning in horses.

How do you recognize it? Cheryl Lisin from the Lost Coast Interpretive Association writes,

Dogbane is a ground hugging perennial reaching about 6 inches tall. In late spring, it has small pink flowers which turn into long pods containing seeds. The foliage turns a pretty yellow in fall then completely disappears during winter dormancy. Growing in grassland, rocky soil or under conifers, it likes the dappled sunlight of forest margins or chaparral and makes a great landscape plant.

Apocynum androsaemifolium is the scientific name. Its close relative, Apocynum cannabinum is called Indian hemp and was used to make string. Both range throughout much of California, Indian hemp preferring streamsides. They are in the Apocynaceae family. Apocynum is Greek for ‘away dog’ and refers to the plant’s toxicity.

The best defense against livestock poisoning, states this site produced by the University of California at Davis, is to make sure animals have plenty of good forage as they will naturally avoid toxic plants if able to do so.
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20 comments

  • The best defense against toxic plants in your pasture is eradication. Don’t count on your livestocks supposed “sense” that it’s poisonous . I have a dead horse to prove it. Cotoneaster is another plant to eradicate.

  • I see very large patches of Hemlock (Conium maculatum) around pasture fences yet never hear of it causing livestock poisoning… Usually see dogbane on roadsides where it attracts butterflies…

    • I have a friend who lost a horse to hemlock. Most people don’t check out the plants in they’re pastures till it’s too late. Every horse is different. Some will eat what others will not. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

  • 0LDMANWHOSTUMBLESINTHEWOODS

    Horses will eat anything to keep from starving….. ive seen them eat ivy_ star thistle for christ sake….. 1 horse needs at least 10 acres. feed em. water em and ride em and they wont be getting in trouble…………. dog bane makes the best rope ive ever seen…. strong,soft, and supple…. irradicate dogbane???????? no stupid horses…. only stupid people…

    • Yeah right, the horse that died from hemlock was in a 20 acre lush pasture. My horse was fed 3 times a day. Yes, eradicate poisonous plants from your pastures, any vet will tell you that and they know more about the subject than you do. Yes, horses can be incredibly stupid, each in it’s own way, you give them too much credit. I hope you’re not a horse owner.

  • Horses’ perceptivity seems as varied as that of humans. A good test of whether they can gauge what’s safe to eat is to see if they take any interest in the nearest oleander bush. I had a horse who not only didn’t go for oleander, but actively tried to get away from it… just like me….

    • My horse wouldn’t eat applesauce but would gobble up St. John’s Wort(makes them photosensitive ) cotoneaster (wrecks the liver ) fiddlehead ferns (poisoness) buttercups etc. If it was toxic, he wanted it. It was a constant battle to rid his pasture of toxic plants. Eventually the health issues from his damaged liver were constant and I had him put down. It broke my heart.

  • I too subscribed to the myth that horses won’t eat anything toxic. It was too late for his liver before I learned otherwise and started eradicating toxic plants.

    • My horse liked eating my whole lunch when my back was turned, but even avoided poison oak, never tried for anything unhealthy, unless you count candy bar wrappers. I think, though, that she was extra-smart for a horse… or extra-perceptive, could read my mind. I never put her in a pasture, rode her every day, all over hill and dale, lots of encounters with every kind of plant.

      Only pastures I’ve ever used are solid mixed grasses and as few chances for equine catastrophe as can be accomplished, having seen the kind of trouble they can and do get into out there if natural hazards are present… which are just about everything except plain grassland without gopher holes.

      I see videos of horses horsing around in pastures with all manner of trouble waiting to happen, still wanting to concern myself with them even if I can’t have one, and usually have to snap them off because I keep seeing hazards and can’t take it even in my imagination. I knew a rancher who would NOT even so much as allow a horse on his property, not even temporarily, because of all the trouble they get into, the fences they wreck, the places they get stuck, the headaches they gave him.

      Trouble with horses is their bad digestion. So little of what they eat gets into their systems before they poop it out that they’re never not hungry. And, for sure, some of them eat, or try to, everything that’s not nailed down. Seems almost luck of the draw more than what they’re fed, or even how often, but also I can’t remember ever meeting one who didn’t have something they were convinced was NOT edible. Apples. Carrots. Grapes. Or ONLY if you presented it just ONE certain exact way.

      It’s like, hey, what’s yer prob, horse? That’s a delicacy! Nope. Not a bit of it. Downright silly. Seems your buddy really got his wires crossed in the culinary department. Sorry about your loss. That had to hurt.

      • Thank you for your nice replies. Ha, my horse would eat poison oak and had a fondness for oak leaves ( bad tannins). A complete trouble maker. Would screw with everything! After dealing with his antics and health issues it’s been enough time now that I feel a bit releved that he’s gone. Sad chapter in my life but it is the luck of the draw like you said. 🙂

  • 0LDMANWHOSTUMBLESINTHEWOODS

    lush pasture? feed your horse three times a day? that about says it all ….ask your vet. but far be it from me to argue with a women about horses . remember horses dont like men…. dear god i wish i had a nickle for every time ive herd that one… horses will eat themselves to death… give them a bale of alfalfa and watch your horse eat the hole bail……colic, and or founder, and or maybe die. horses are made to feed on the move…. little bit here, little bit there, lots of fiber all day, all night, maryanne…. eat, move , walk. run, go to water, tank up. eat, jump , skip,crow-hop eat, sleep somwhere in between eating and running………. like that there…… the best thing to do is use herbicides [round up…24d from oregon] and then let you ponies out on that…….. fight poison with poison…. again….. ……………………….. “NO STUPID HORSES ONLY STUPID PEOPLE”……. RAY HUNT..

    • Horses don’t like men, or women, who don’t/won’t/can’t connect with them on a spiritual level… that would be mostly American men. Doesn’t seem to be such a problem in the rest of the world. Isn’t that much of a problem here, but there ARE quite a few horses whose early experience with a brutal male puts them off men for life.

      My family raised thoroughbreds. We got a broodmare once off the track for free because she was vicious… to men… terrified of them and going to strike before they did.

      I rode and showed hunters and jumpers for decades. I met quite a few horses with a similar problem. I took problem horses and helped them over their problems for people… and the people. There is merit to what you say about no stupid horses, but there are definitely many gradations of horse smarts and the smartest ones are usually the nuttiest ones… which, in turn, can turn out not to have been so smart.

      Seems to me Eastside was talking about two different horses. Someone else’s, in a 20-acre pasture who died of eating hemlock, and hers, whom she fed three times a day. My first thought was that was taking things a bit far, but then I thought about it. You can feed the same amount over a number of doses, and the horse will be happier anyway. That wasn’t a hard mental leap for me.

      Really, just about the first thing anyone learns about a horse, beside that they’re quadrupeds, is that they will eat themselves to death if given the chance… founder. So, but, it seems to me you’re just looking to be cantankerous, so avid to gripe about human stupidity you start yelling at people who don’t deserve it.

      And, what do you suppose is the difference if you kill your horse with toxic plants in the pasture or toxic chemicals in it?

  • 0LDMANWHOSTUMBLESINTHEWOODS

    OH . ONE MORE THING… THE STUPIDEST HORSE I EVER MET WAS A HELL OF ALOT SMARTER THAN MOST ADULTS I KNOW. SAME GOES FOR DOGS AND KIDS…. THERE NOT BORN THAT WAY PEOPLE, HOMO SAPIENS, MAKE EM THAT WAY…. OH CHRIST I SAID I WASNT GOING TO ARGUE….. KINDA LIKE WIPPEN YOUR ASS ON A HOOP…YOULL GET USED TO IT EVENTUALLY…..

    • Since my pasture was not lush and sparsely grassed, as per my vets recommendation his grass hay was divided up into 3 feedings calculated by his weight and lbs of roughage needed. Since equines ultimately need to graze 17 hours a day due to the makeup of their digestive systems. Long periods of no graze can cause ulcers. Never fed my horse alfalfa. Don’t quite understand your condescending attitude towards me, and I always say, don’t argue with a man about horses that’s stuck in old school horse care.

      • Oh, one more thing. Just stop , you’re not talking to a dumbshit. I’ve been around horses most my life. I’ve ridden for pleasure, ranched, and enduranced raced. I’ve read more horse care and training books and watched more horse shows on RFD tv than I care to admit. I’ve consulted with vets more than the average horse owner. Keep your silly ass comments to yourself.

  • 0LDMANWHOSTUMBLESINTHEWOODS

    KIM , THANKS FOR THE CRONIC RELIEF….. . I REALLY APPRECIATE YOUR PAGE AND DISCUSSIONS….. ESPECIALLY ABOUT PLANTS AND ANIMALS, WILD LIFE, AND INCREDIBLE PHOTOS OF OUT DOORS LIFE… AND NO I DONT HAVE THE LUXURY OF OWNING A HORSE. ….WITH THE PRICE OF ALFALFA,, SEEMS THE 6 RESCUE NAGGOTS I SEE MOWING OUR FEILDS ,OWN ME…. THE EX LEFT EM …AND…..BEQUITHED THEM A BARN OF MOULDERING ALFALFA, WHICH SHE FIRMLY INSTRUCTED THE KIDS TO GIVE EACH HORSE, ONE FLAKE ,TWICE A DAY, SO I SAID THEY COULD JUST TOSS OUT A BALE AND LET THE OL ALFA MARE SETTLE THE DUST…WILL A ITTY BITT OF MOLD HURT A HORSE????…. IVE HERD SOME NEW SCHOOL HORSY OWNERS SAY HORSES WILL GET ULCERS FROM ALFALFA,!……. IN THE FALL I FEED , 2 X A DAY… I MIX 1 FLAKE ALFALFA WITH TWO CUPS OF ACORNS, UN-HULLED, WHEN THEY ARE AVALIABLE,,,,, AND1 GALLON BUCKET OF SENORE EQUINE ON THE GROUND, [ [DIRT ADDS MICRONUTRIENTS ] THE TANNIC ACID IN, THE ACURN SEEMS TO SOMEHOW BALANCE THINGS…. PH/OUT,,,,, AN OLD WHYLACKIE INDIAN TAUGHT ME THAT ….[ OLD AGE INDIAN TRICK ?] …SAME TIME GET HORSE FATTENED FOR WINTER AND COMMING WHITEZOMBIE APPOCOLYPSE…… KIM…. I TRUELY APPRECIATE YOUR ADVICE ABOUT CIVILITY AND BREATH….. ”BREATH IN…. AND….. OUT.” …. : BIG BIRD ………….P.S. I THINK ITS MOST LIKELY HORSES GET ULCERS FOR THE SAME REASONS HOMO SAPIENS DO….. TOO MUCH B.S….. T.V………….
    ………… EX+ B.S.+ T.V. = ULCER…… CURE= GO OUTSIDE AND DANCE IN THE SUNSHINE AS IF YOUR LIFE DEPENDS ON IT……. AMEN, IM OUTA HEAR….. P.P.S IN MY EARLIER COMMENT,WHEN I SAID ASS ,I MEANTT TIT AS IN…. BURROW, OR DONKEY…… ASS IN THE BIBLICAL SENSE…… NEVER EVER COVET YOUR NEIGHBORS WIFES ASSETS.

  • 0LDMANWHOSTUMBLESINTHEWOODS

    DROLL? …..MAYBE, …..TROLL ? …..NOPE!….. DROOL?….. SOMETIMES…… DULL? ………… MOST OF THE TIME……. LAST TAG……. YOUR IT …YOU BIT….I QUIT!

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