Some crazy side effects of plants are well documented. Most people have run afoul of a patch of poison ivy on a hike, or perhaps experimented with certain herbal substances in college. Many common drugs, both recreational and medicinal, come from flowers, crops, and fungi that are able to induce a number of odd effects in the human body. Whether it is the addictive qualities of nicotine or the mind-altering hallucinogenic visions brought on by magic mushrooms, there are plenty of examples of plants with extreme chemical properties.
While some of the bizarre effects of plants and fungi are pleasurable, there are also particularly dangerous plants that drive you crazy in less enjoyable ways. Some might cause you excessive pain from toxins, while others could hurt your internal organs if they're ingested. And flora doesn't just impact humans, either. In fact, many plants can cause unusual side effects in animals and insects as well. What certain plants do to your body is downright alarming.
Types of fungi from the genus Ophiocordyceps have gained notoriety for their strange effects. When ants run across these fungi's spores, they quickly infect the ants' brains with a special mix of chemicals. This process essentially turns them into walking zombies.
The infected ants are then under the control of the fungi. With their nervous systems being piloted by the spores, the ants are forced to climb up other plants and clamp down on the vegetation. Spores then grow out of the back of the insects' heads, so that the fungi can spread further by dropping onto the forest floor and infecting more ants.
This unique relationship fascinates researchers. Studies suggest that the parasitic fungi are even able to differentiate between various ants to only infected their preferred types of hosts.
This unnamed fungus from the Dictyophora genus was first discovered in 2001, by medical scientists who were investigating mushrooms in Hawaii. Growing only near volcanoes where lava once flowed, the fungus is known in the area as a powerful aphrodisiac. That reputation comes largely from the belief that the fungus can induce orgasms in any woman who smells it. The claim sounds outrageous, but tests conducted by the researchers found that many of subjects did experience "spontaneous orgasms" when smelling the fungus. They speculated that some chemicals given off by the mushroom might be similar to hormones released during sexual activity.
Stinging nettles can, well, sting, but some types can actually be dangerous. Take the Gympie-Gympie stinging tree, for example, a type of Australian plant (Dendrocnide moroides). Its sharp hairs are able to penetrate even thick protective gear, and the plant causes a stinging sensation that has been described as "like being burnt with hot acid and electrocuted at the same time." This pain will often last for up to two weeks before subsiding. In some cases, though, it can last for two years, putting victims under constant stress and pain that does not seem to respond to any sort of treatment.
Kalmia latifolia, more commonly known as mountain laurel, is a flowering plant that is found throughout the United States. Although it isn’t particularly dangerous to touch, eating the vegetation can cause serious complications. One of the toxins contained within the plant can slow the heart and lower blood pressure. It also causes vomiting, diarrhea, and increased salivation, and in some cases, loss of vision. The plant's effects can be fatal.
Animals are more likely to accidentally ingest mountain laurel than humans. But consumers should be aware of where their honey comes from - if it was produced in a region with mountain laurel, it could contain pollen from the plant. This so-called "mad honey" can cause vomiting, convulsions, and paralysis.