White Snakeroot

By late summer, white snakeroot begins to appear in our flower beds and along our wood borders in central Missouri, adorning the property through October.  This native herb, up to five feet tall, is characterized by pointed, oval-shaped leaves with serrated edges and showy clusters of tiny white flowers that each produce a small, dark seed.

Found throughout the eastern half of North America, the foliage of this plant is toxic to livestock, especially if consumed in large amounts or regularly over an extended period of time.  Its poisonous compound, known as tremetol, causes anorexia, listlessness, tremors and ataxia in affected animals; humans who consume milk produced by poisoned cattle or goats may also become ill (in some cases fatally).  Indeed, during the 1800s, thousands of American settlers may have died from "milk sickness."

Since we do not munch on the white snakeroot in our yard, we are not a risk from this toxic herb.  This is especially fortunate since it spreads by both seed and subsurface rhizomes, making the plant difficult to eradicate; those who wish to make an attempt are advised to pull up the plants when they first appear (i.e. before flowering begins in late summer).