Toxicology Brief: Brunfelsia species: Beautiful but deadly

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Mar 01, 2008

The genus Brunfelsia belongs to the alkaloid-rich Solanaceae family. It consists of about 40 different species and is native to South and Central America and the West Indies. Brunfelsia species are erect, compact evergreen shrubs that are about 1.5 to 6 ft in height and diameter. In the United States, they are grown as ornamentals in gardens, especially in the warmer southern coastal regions where they can better withstand the winter season. Brunfelsia species are also grown as potted plants and, thus, can be available in the colder states year-round.


1. Brunfelsia species flowers, leaves, and seeds. Note all three flower colors—purple, lavender, and white—are present on the plant on the left. On the right, note the brown seedpods. (Photos courtesy of Dr. Linnaea Stull.)
Brunfelsia species flowers are showy and appear in clusters (Figure 1). The deep-purple flowers gradually change to lavender and then white over a three-day period. This change in color has given some Brunfelsia species the popular common names the morning-noon-and-night plant and the yesterday-today-and-tomorrow plant. One plant may have all three flower colors (purple, lavender, and white) at the same time. The flowers bloom in midspring, and green to blackish-brown berries develop in summer and autumn. Each seedpod contains about 20 small, hard, dark-brown seeds.1-3

Extracts from some Brunfelsia species possess therapeutic properties, and, historically, some Brunfelsia species have been used in the West Indies and South America to treat various ailments. Some of the therapeutic properties and uses of Brunfelsia species include anti-inflammatory, cathartic, diuretic, antipyretic, antirheumatic, abortifacient, emetic, hallucinogenic, and hypertensive effects.1,2

This article describes the clinical signs and treatment of Brunfelsia species toxicosis in dogs. It also reviews Brunfelsia species exposures reported to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) Animal Poison Control Center (APCC) from November 2001 to November 2006.

REPORTED EXPOSURES

A search of the ASPCA APCC database AnTox for Brunfelsia species exposures from November 2001 to November 2006 revealed 38 cases involving 42 dogs (three cases involved more than one dog).4 No cases were reported in any other animal species. The most commonly involved breeds were Labrador retrievers (n=5) and golden retrievers (n=4). The age range of exposed dogs was from 1 month to 8 years. Weights ranged from 6 to 75 lb (2.7 to 34 kg).

Evidence of chewed Brunfelsia species was found in 25 cases, and in six cases, someone observed the dogs' exposure to Brunfelsia species. The quantity of ingested plant was known in four cases: One dog ingested two leaves, and three dogs ingested 15, 20, and 30 seeds, respectively.4