FAMILY: Oleaceae—the Olive Family
In Pennsylvania this small family is represented by both native and introduced species and contains such non-toxic plants as our familiar ash trees (Praxinus) and the cultivated plants forsythia (Forsythia) and lilac (Syringa). Economically, the family contributes plant material for ornamental and shade use, and in warmer climates provides the Mediterranean olive (Olea) for its edible fruit. The privet hedges (Ligustrum) produce poisonous berries and are included in this treatment. Family characteristics are leaves: primarily opposite; calyx: commonly 4-lobed; corolla: 4-lobed; stamens: 2; ovary: superior, 2-celled; fruit: a berry, drupe, capsule, or samara
PHENOLOGY: Ligustrum produces intensely strong-scented flowers in June and July.
DISTRIBUTION: Four species of privet, all introduced from Europe or Asia, are cultivated in Pennsylvania. They escape to thickets, open woods, roadsides, and borders of woodlands.
PLANT CHARACTERISTICS: These woody deciduous shrubs, commonly cultivated for hedges, have handsome foliage and a profusion of white flowers. Leaves: opposite, simple, entire, often thick and lustrous-green, oblong or ovate, 2.5-6 cm long; flowers: in pyramidal panicles terminating branches and branchlets; calyx: short-tubular, 4-toothed; corolla: 4-lobed; stamens: 2, inserted on the corolla tube; berry: black when mature, 1-2 seeded, hard, becoming dry and papery.
POISONOUS PARTS: The vegetation and berries are poisonous.
SYMPTOMS: The foliage and fruit produce severe gastroenteritis, pain, vomiting, and death.
POISONOUS PRINCIPLES: In Ligustrum the toxin is believed to be an unknown glycoside.
CONFUSED TAXA: This common hedge is familiar to many. No other cultivated or native shrub appears like privet, described above.
SPECIES OF ANIMALS AFFECTED: Although poisoning is rare, humans (children), as well as horses, sheep, and cattle, have suffered from consumption of Ligustrum.
TREATMENT: (11a)(b); (26)