Economic Plants | Plant Biology | SIU

Southern Illinois University



College of Agriculture, Life and Physical Sciences

Economic Plants

Economic Plants

There are thousands of plants that humans have found economically useful. The list below does not include all uses for our Greenhouse plants. Not included here are plants used purely for ornament (floriculture, horticulture). PLEASE! Do Not Eat any plants in the PLB Greenhouse as all have been treated with pesticides.

Food, Beverage and Condiment Plants

Herbs and Spices

Perfumes, Flavors, Essential Oils

Medicinal and Drug Plants

Poisonous Plants

  • Aglaonema (Aglaonema).  Produces raphides, crystals of calcium oxalate.
  • Allamanda cathartica (Common Allamanda, Golden Trumpet).  All parts of the plant but mostly the fruit and sap cause stomach upset.
  • Anthurium (Tailflower). Produces raphides, crystals of calcium oxalate.
  • Asclepias curasavica (Bloodflower).  Contains cardiac glycosides.
  • Caladium (Mother-in-law Plant, Angel-wings). Produces raphides, crystals of calcium oxalate.
  • Colocasia (Elephant Ears). Produces raphides, crystals of calcium oxalate
  • Datura metel (Metel, Downy Thornapple, Devil's Trumpet).  All members of the genus Datura are poisonous, including the common Jimson Weed (Datura stramonium).   All parts of the plant are poisonous, particularly the seeds.  They contain many alkaloids including hyoscyamine, atropine, and hyoscine (scopolamine).
  • Dieffenbachia spp. (Dumb Cane).  Produces raphides, crystals of calcium oxalate as well as some toxic proteins.
  • Euphorbia milii (Crown of Thorns).  This species and other members of the family Euphorbiaceae produce milky sap that causes dermatitis and poisoning if ingested.
  • Jatropha.  All members of the genus are poisonous, such as J. gossypifolia (Bellyache bush), J. multifida (Physic Nut, Coral Plant), and  J. podagrica(Tartogo, Australian Bottle Plant). Sap from all parts of the plant contains curcin, a toxalbumin.
  • Lantana camara (Lantana, Red Sage).  Although commonly cultivated, the fruit (especially the green unripe one) contains the alkaloid lantanin or lantadene.
  • Monstera (Windowleaf).  Produces raphides, crystals of calcium oxalate.
  • Nerium oleander (Oleander).  Contains cardiac glycosides nerioside and oleandroside.
  • Ornithogalum longibracteatum. A relative of this greenhouse plant, O. umbellatum, is poisonous, so this species might be as well.
  • Philodendron spp. (Philodendrons).  Produces raphides, crystals of calcium oxalate
  • Rhododendron (Azalea, Rhododendron).  Although not often grown in our greenhouse, it is a commonly planted shrub around this and other buildings on campus.  The plants contain andromedotoxin, a toxic resinoid.
  • Scindapsus aureus (Golden Pothos).  Produces raphides, crystals of calcium oxalate.
  • Zantedeschia spp. (Cala Lily). Produces raphides, crystals of calcium oxalate.

Fiber Plants

  • Musa. Members of the genus are not only grown for food but also fiber, such as M. textilis (Abaca, Manila Hemp).
  • Agave. All members of the genus produce fibers in their leaves, but A. sisalana (Sisal, Hemp Plant) is cultivated specifically for this purpose.

Dye Plants

Many native plants can be used for dyeing. See the following:

Richards, L. and R. J. Tyrl. 2005.  Dyes from American native plants: a practical guide.  Timber Press. Portland, Oregon.

  • Isatis indigotica (Woad). This and other species (e.g. I. tinctoria) are the woad that gives a blue color upon dyeing.

Poisonous Local Plants

The following list of native and commonly cultivated Illinois poisonous plants is included as a general reference. The list contains plants poisonous to livestock as well as people. Those plants listed above are not repeated. This list is not to be considered exhaustive but a work in progress.

Acer spp. including A. rubrum, A. saccharinum. (Maples)
Actaea spp. (Baneberry, Dolls Eyes, White Cohosh, Snakeberry)
Aesculus spp. (Horse Chestnut, Buckeye)
Agrostemma githago (Corn Cockle)
Allium spp. (Onions)
Amaranthus spp. (Pigweed)
Ambrosia spp. (Ragweeds)
Apocynum spp. (Dogbane)
Aquilegia ssp. (Columbine)
Argemone spp. (Prickly Poppy or Mexican Poppy)
Arisaema spp. (Jack in the Pulpit)
Arum italicum (Italian Arum)
Asclepias spp. (Milkweed)
Asparagus officinalis (Asparagus)
Astragalus  spp. (Locoweed)
Brassica spp. (Rape, Cabbage, Turnips, Broccoli, Mustard)
Buxus spp. (Boxwood)
Caltha palustris (Marsh Marigold or Cowslip)
Cannabis sativa (Marijuana)
Centaurea solstitialis (Yellow Star Thistle)
Chelidonium majus (Celandine)
Chenopodium album (Lambs Quarters)
Cicuta spp. (Water Hemlock or Cowbane)
Conium maculatum (Poison Hemlock)
Convallaria majalis (Lily of the Valley)
Cytisus scoparius (Scot Broom)
Delphinium spp. (Delphiniums and Larkspurs)
Dicentra spp. (Bleeding Heart, Squirrel Corn, Dutchmans Breeches)
Digitalis purpurea (Foxglove)
Equisetum spp. (Horsetails)
Eupatorium rugosum (White Snakeroot)
Fagopyrum esculentum (Buckwheat)
Festuca arundinacea (Tall Fescue)
Gelsemium sempervirens (Jessamine)
Glechoma spp. (Ground Ivy, Creeping Charlie, and Gill over the Ground)
Gymnocladus dioicus (Kentucky Coffee Tree)
Helenium amarum [synonym H. tenuifolium] (Bitterweed)
Helleborus spp. (Hellebore, Christmas Rose)
Hyoscyamus niger (Henbane)
Hypericum spp. (St. Johns Wort, Klamath Weed)
Iris spp. (Irises)
Laportea canadensis (Wood Nettle)
Lathyrus spp. (Sweet Pea, Tangier Pea, Everlasting Pea, Caley Pea and Singletary Pea)
Linum usitatissimum (Flax)
Lobelia spp. (Great Lobelia, Cardinal Flower, and Indian Tobacco)
Lotus corniculatus (Birdsfoot Trefoil)
Lupinus spp. (Lupine)
Medicago sativa (Alfalfa or Lucerne)
Menispermum canadense (Moonseed)
Melilotus alba and M. officinalis (White and Yellow Sweetclover)
Narcissus spp. (Daffodil, Jonquil)
Nicotiana spp. (Tobacco and Tree Tobacco)
Onoclea sensibilis (Sensitive Fern)
Papaver spp. (Various Poppies including Opium Poppy)
Parthenocissus quinquefolia (Virginia Creeper)
Phoradendron serotinum (Mistletoe).
Phytolacca americana (Pokeweed)
Pieris spp. (Japanese Pieris, Mountain Fetterbrush)
Pinus ponderosa (Ponderosa Pine)
Podophyllum peltatum (Mayapple and Mandrake)
Prunus spp. (Wild Cherries, Black Cherry, Bitter Cherry, Choke Cherry, Pin Cherry) 
Pteridium aquilinum (Bracken Fern)
Quercus spp. (Oak Trees)
Ranunculus spp. (Buttercups or Crowfoot)
Rheum rhaponticum (Rhubarb)
Ricinus communis (Castor Bean)
Robinia pseudoacacia (Black Locust)
Rumex spp. (Dock)
Sambucus canadensis (Elderberry)
Sanguinaria canadensis (Bloodroot)
Saponaria spp. (Bouncing Bet and Cow Cockle)
Securigera varia (formerly Coronilla varia) (Crown Vetch)
Senecio spp. (Senecio, Groundsels, and Ragworts)
Solanum spp. (Common Nightshade, Black Nightshade, Horse Nettle, Buffalo Bur, Potato)
Sorghum spp. (Sorghum or Milo, Sudan Grass, and Johnson Grass)
Symplocarpus foetidus (Eastern Skunk Cabbage)
Taxus spp. (Yew)
Toxicodendron radicans (Poison ivy) and Toxicodendron toxicarium (Poison oak).
Toxicodendron vernix (Poison Sumac)
Trifolium spp. (Alsike Clover, Red Clover, White Clover)
Urtica spp. (Stinging Nettle)
Veratrum spp. (False Hellbore). V. woodii in Illinois 
Vicia spp. (Common Vetch, Hairy Vetch, Narrow leaved Vetch, Purple Vetch and Broad Beans)
Wisteria spp. (Wisteria)
Xanthium strumarium (Cocklebur)
Zigadenus spp. (Death Camas)

For an Excel spreadsheet with a list of poisonous plants, click here

See the following:

Wikipedia - Poisonous Plants.  An extensive list here.

Hardin, J. W. and J. M. Arena.  1969.  Human poisoning from native and cultivated plants. Duke University Press, Durham, NC.