Nova Scotia

Aren't sure if a plant is deadly or toxic? There's an app for that

Learning whether a mushroom found during a hike in Nova Scotia's wilderness is deadly or harmless when eaten just got a little easier.

New app has information to help identify common, dangerous plants found in Nova Scotia

Giant hogweed is one of the many common plants found in Nova Scotia that are harmful to humans. (Meghan Grguric/University of Guelph)

Learning whether a mushroom found during a hike in Nova Scotia's wilderness is deadly or harmless when eaten just got a little easier.

A new smartphone app called Harmful Nova Scotia Plants can help users identify which plants are poisonous — be it the mushroom credited for creating the world's religions or the giant hogweed plant that can cause inflammation if its sap gets on the skin. 

The app's content has been provided by Marian Munro, curator of botany at the Nova Scotia Museum. She also helped provide content for a similar app that identifies useful plants in the province.

Munro says the new app doesn't just identify poisonous plants you find in the wild. 

"You have to think of your garden, you have to think of your kitchen," Murno told CBC's Information Morning. "There are even spices that we might find in our spice cabinet." 

Mushrooms most common & dangerous

The app is available for Android, iPhone and mobile browsers. Users can search by location where the plant was found, review individual plant entries or flip through 103 images. 

Marian Munro is curator of botany at the Nova Scotia Museum. (Nova Scotia Museum)

Mushrooms are the most common dangerous plants, Munro said. Nightshade — a vine with berries that can grow on fences — is also commonly reported to the province's Poison Control centre. 

"Certainly people tend to think, 'Oh, it's been nibbled. I can eat that,'" she explained.

But some species can eat plants harmful to humans. Slugs, squirrel and deer can all eat the all-white destroying angel mushroom. But a human can die by eating just 30 grams — or half a cap.

"It's suspected it's harmless to them, but none of us has actually followed a slug around to see if it survived the nibbling on that deadly poisonous mushroom," she said.

'Too many' to include all

One of Munro's favourites is the fly agaric mushroom. With its white-dotted red cap that resembles a Super Mario power up mushroom. But she says some scholars believe it's responsible for the world's religions because of its prevalence and hallucinogenic properties. 

This photo shows several amanita muscaria or "fly agaric" mushrooms on the forest floor. (Siobhan Starrs/The Associated Press)

Apple seeds, the bleeding heart plant, and the potato fruit are all common and can be found in Nova Scotia backyards. Toxicity varies on the plant and quantity consumed.

But Munro says the app doesn't include all poisons. It features information about those the Poison Control Centre has received calls about in the last 10 years. 

"Had we included everything, we wouldn't have been able to make a mobile app. Too many," she said.

The app has a section on what to do upon a suspected poisoning of any kind. But if that happens, everyone's instinct should be the same, she said. 

"The answer is call 911." 

With files from Information Morning Halifax