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Fly Poison, Stagger Grass - Amianthium muscitoxicum


Family: Melanthiaceae - False-Hellebore Family Genus Common Name: Fly Poison Native Status: NativeMonocot Perennial Herb
Amianthium muscitoxicum - Fly Poison, Stagger Grass. Amianthium muscaetoxicum is monotypic - this is the only species in the genus, although it is closely related to Death Camas (Toxicoscordion, Stenanthium, Zigadenus, Anticlea), from which it can be distinguished by the brown bracts within the inflorescence, and by having a denser cluster of basal leaves. These genera have been recently moved out of Liliaceae and into the Melanthiaceae - False-Hellebore - family

The species epithet translates to Fly Poison, indicative of the poisonous nature of the plant. All parts are poisonous. The bulb, which is especially poisonous, is a natural insecticide, but in spite of that, some butterflies eat the nectar of the plant without adverse effect. The alternate common name of Stagger Grass is because cattle which eat the plant will stagger, and then perhaps die, from the effects of the poison.

Amianthium muscaetoxicum is an alternate spelling of the scientific name which is not accepted by most authorities. Zigadenus muscitoxicus is a synonym, indicating the close relationship to the genus by which most Death Camas have been classified until recently.

It is Threatened in Kentucky.

Found in:
AL, AR, DE, FL, GA, KY, LA, MD, MO, MS, NC, NJ, NY, OK, PA, SC, TN, VA, WV

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Amianthium muscitoxicum

Distribution of Amianthium muscitoxicum in the United States and Canada:
USDA Plants Distribution Map temporarily unavailable.
Blue=Native; Grey=Introduced

Map from USDA Plants Database:
USDA, NRCS. 2017. The PLANTS Database (http://plants.usda.gov, 23 Jul 2017). National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC 27401-4901 USA.

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Site: GSMNP, Heintooga Ridge Road (Blue Ridge Parkway spur), Swain County, NC Date: 2011-August-01Photographer: Cindy Williamson
Nikon D40
The blossoms are white until they are pollenated, when they will turn the pale green shown in these photos, generally about two weeks after full bloom. Note the brown bracts within the raceme at the base of the flower stems; this is another indicator that this is Fly Poison rather than one of the Death Camas species.
Amianthium muscitoxicum

Site: GSMNP - Heintooga Ridge Road (Blue Ridge Parkway spur), Swain County, NC Date: 2011-August-01Photographer: Cindy Williamson
Nikon D40
Fly poison has 6 tepals which are initially white, but turn green when pollenated. The blossom also has 6 stamens above the tepals, and 3 tiny stigmas at the end of the styles which can be seen in this photo above the swollen ovaries.
Click on the photo for a larger image
Amianthium muscitoxicum

Site: GSMNP - Heintooga Ridge Road (Blue Ridge Parkway spur), Swain County, NC Date: 2011-August-01Photographer: Gerald C Williamson
Nikon D7000
The raceme (cluster of blossoms each on an individual stalk from the central stem) terminates a mostly leafless stem, arising from a cluster of narrow, grass-like leaves. The density of this “tuft” of leaves is one of the differentiators between Fly Poison and the various Death Camas species. The leaves are up to 16” long and usually less than an inch wide.
Click on the photo for a larger image
Amianthium muscitoxicum

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All content except USDA Plants Database map Copyright Gerald C. Williamson 2017
Photographs Copyright owned by the named photographer