Fly Poison

Amianthium muscaetoxicum; also, A. muscitoxicum
Friday, June 17, 2011

Fly Poison FlowerFly poison is a slender white flower present now in many places around Mountain Lake. The rosette of leaves is one of the first shoots to emerge in spring; however, animals only eat it when given no alternative; all parts of this plant are poisonous. The narrow, grass-like basal leaves bolt in mid-June through July and form a raceme (a cluster on a long, unbranched stem) of flowers that start white but turn green with age. The individual flowers actually have 3 petals and 3 sepals, despite the appearance of having six petals. It cannot self-pollinate and is pollinated mostly by beetles.

Fly Poison PlantUnderneath its deceptively lovely flowers, fly poison contains alkaloid neurotoxins that can cause birth defects and sometimes death in livestock. Although the leaves, stem, and flowers of this plant are also poisonous, the bulb is the most deadly. “Fly Poison” earned its name because many early settlers crushed it in a bowl with honey to attract and kill flies. It also goes by “Crow Poison” for the same reason, as well as “Stagger Grass” because of the staggering typical of affected livestock.

It can be found in dry or moist woodland, meadows, and open fields. It is a perennial and is present across much of the southeast, growing as far west as Oklahoma and as far north as New York.

This specimen was collected behind the pumphouse.

Article by Hazel Galloway