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Thursday - February 17, 2005

From: Newberry, SC
Region: Southeast
Topic: Wildflowers
Title: More on bluebonnets
Answered by: Joe Marcus and Nan Hampton


We live on a farm and have recently had a cow that was deathly sick, then finally got better. We also had a couple of calving problems with the cows. I was reading about how toxic tailcup lupine is to animals and wondered if it occurs in South Carolina? I am almost sure I've seen this flower here before. I thought it had a beautiful purple flower on it. Could this be it?


Tailcup Lupine, or Kellog's spurred lupine, (Lupinus caudatus), a western US species, does not occur in South Carolina.  There are three lupine species that occur in South Carolina, but only two occur in your area: Sky-blue Lupine (L. diffusus) and Sundial Lupine (L. perennis).  However, it is unlikely your cattle were poisoned by ingesting lupines.  Cattle, and nearly all other grazing animals for that matter, find lupines very unpalatable and will only eat them in severely overgrazed situations where there is nothing else to eat.   Central Texas is known for its bluebonnets largely because our lupines take advantage of the fact that cattle won't eat them and graze out most of their competition.

The most common cause of cattle poisoning in your area is probably wilted cherry foliage.  Cherries, especially choke cherry (Prunus virginiana), commonly occur in fence rows.  Landowners clear their fence rows and sometimes leave some of the cherry limbs behind.  As the foliage dies, cyanide forms in the wilting leaves.  Cows come along and consume the foliage (they find cherry foliage very tasty) and get sick and often die.  Here is a link to a helpful site at Clemson University.  Purdue University in Indiana and Cornell University in New York both have databases listing plants poisonous to livestock and pets. Your veterinarian should be able to better diagnose the cause of the poisoning, or help you identify potential problems on your land.  

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