Stagger Grass, Crow Poison, or Fly Poison
Look here– a lovely flower with a poisonous punch! Fly Poison is blooming right now in the higher elevations at Mountain Lake, in Giles County. This plant contains neurotoxins that are deadly enough to kill livestock. All parts of the plant are toxic, especially the bulb.
The plant comes up early in the spring and is found blooming in woodlands, meadows and fields in early to mid-summer. The basal leaves are long and narrow; the leaves form a clump that looks distinctly like a sturdy grass–but looks can be deceiving. The plant is really a member of the Lily family (Liliaceae). Tall flower stalks emerge in June and grow 1-3 ft. in height. Each unbranched stalk bears a dense cluster of white flowers; each tiny flower appears to have 6 petals and six stout stamens. The flower panicle turns greenish as it matures.
Early Americans mixed extracts of the plant with honey to create a concoction that attracted and killed flies (an early pesticide!). Native Americans used it in a similar manner to poison crows. In the days before pharmacies and farm supply stores, knowing and using native plants like this one was a way of life!
Despite the name, this is a striking wildflower to see in the wild, so be on the lookout this summer for Fly Poison.
3 Comments Add yours
Greetings – I photographed a a flower back in May blooming up on Massanutten ridge. In trying to identify the closest I can come is fly poison, but it was spherical on a two foot stalk, about the size of a fist, with a big “bee hive” structure (sorry know absolutely nothing about botany) at the top.
Could this be a variation of Amianthium muscaetoxicuma?
If you were on the west coast, I’d think you are describing Bear Grass. But, since you are in Virginia, can you send me the photo at firstname.lastname@example.org?