Plants & Weeds Toxic to Horses
This is a listing of the most commonly found toxic weeds in horse pastures in Burke County and is not all inclusive. For example, Carolina jessamine, one of the most dangerous plants in North Carolina, is not listed because it does not occur in Burke County or the western areas of the state.
In most cases the weeds are unpalatable and will not be grazed unless desirable forages are unavailable. The notable exceptions are black cherry and red maple leaves. These leaves are toxic in even small amounts. Horse will sometimes eat the wilted leaves from a blown down black cherry and a few fallen red maple leaves can easily be picked up when grazing. A few years ago three horses died in Burke County when their owner fed their hay under a red maple during leaf drop.
Some of these plants may surprise you and you will probably despair of ever learning them all. But learning them all is not the point. Your stock are living in a dangerous environment and the best way to protect them from toxic weeds is to develop and utilize a comprehensive weed control program. Such a program with involve both mowing and herbicides. Depending on mowing alone will result in a prevalence of perennial weeds while reliance on herbicides alone will develop an annual weed problem. A dual approach is best.
|Poisonous Weeds||Toxicity Level|
|Alfalfa (when blister beetles are baled in it)||Dangerous!!|
|Annual Buttercup||Widespread, but of minor importance|
|Arbovitae||Dangerous, but uncommon|
|Bitterweed or bitter sneezeweed||Dangerous!!|
|Black cherry (when stressed)||Dangerous!!|
|Black Walnut||Dangerous, but rarely eaten|
|Bladderpod||Dangerous, but rarely eaten|
|Bleeding heart||Dangerous, but rarely eaten|
|Bloodroot||Dangerous, but rarely eaten|
|Boxwood||Dangerous, but generally unavailable|
|Buttonbush||Dangerous, but rarely eaten|
|Camas, death camas, black snakeroot||Dangerous, but rarely eaten|
|Castorbean||Dangerous, but generally unavailable|
|Climbing bittersweet||Minor importance|
|Corn Cockle||Dangerous, but rarely eaten|
|Elderberry||Dangerous, but rarely eaten|
|False Hellebore||Dangerous, but rarely eaten|
|Fumewort||Dangerous, but uncommon|
|Ground cherry||Dangerous, but rarely eaten|
|Horsenettle||Dangerous, but rarely eaten|
|Horsetail or scouring rush||Dangerous, but rarely eaten|
|Hydrangea||Dangerous, but uncommon|
|Johnsongrass (when stressed)||Dangerous, but rarely eaten by horses|
|Lily-of-the-Valley||Dangerous, but uncommon|
|Mayapple or mandrake||Dangerous, but rarely eaten|
|Milkweed||Dangerous, but rarely eaten|
|Milo (Grain Sorghum) (when stressed)||Dangerous!!|
|Monkshod||Dangerous, but uncommon|
|Oak Leaves and Acorns||Minor importance|
|Oleander||Dangerous, but uncommon|
|Perilla Mint||Minor importance|
|Pigweed||Dangerous, but rarely eaten|
|Poison hemlock||Dangerous, but rarely eaten|
|Red Maple (stressed leaves)||Dangerous!! but rarely eaten|
|Scarlet pimpernel||Dangerous, but rare|
|Scott’s broom or scotch broom||Minor importance|
|Sesbania||Dangerous, but uncommon|
|Sorghum and sudangrass hybrids (when stressed)||Dangerous|
|St John’s Wort||Minor importance|
|Star-of-Bethlehem||Dangerous, but uncommon|
|Sweetshrub (Sweet Bubby)||Dangerous, but rarely eaten|
|Sweet Clover (when frosted or baled wet)||Minor importance|
|Tall fescue(endophyte)||Moderately toxic problems common|
|Wild parsnip or spotted cowbane||Dangerous!!|
|Yew||Dangerous, but uncommon|
|Wooly croton||Minor importance|
Associated Toxicities of Some Pasture Plants
- Red Clover
- Black patch fungus on leaves causes slobbers. In horses it can cause dehydration to a life threatening degree. This fungus is also found quite often on white clover types and should be suspected anytime excessive slobbering is observed in the horse.
- Sudangrass or Sorghum
- Can cause cystitis syndrome when grazed after a prolonged drought or heavy frost. While these compounds break down in hay in a matter of a few weeks these forages are still not recommended for horse hay due to the difficulty in drying down the thick stems and the attendant risk of the hay molding in the bales.
- Can cause poisoning and death in heavily fertilized grass pastures and hay fields especially in drought conditions.
- German Millet
- When fed as a major forage can cause kidney, joint and bone problems, especially when plants are mature.
- Lush pastures
- Horses unaccustomed to lush pasture can colic or founder if suddenly changed to them.
- Tall fescue
- Tall fescue is our most common pasture grass and hay species primarily because of its resiliency and low maintenace. A large measure of these benefits can be attributed to the presence of an endophyte fungus living in a symbiotic relationship within the plant. The fungus also produces an alkaloid which causes a number of problems for cattle and bred mares.