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Charlize and I stopped at yet another vista, this one full of cars, trucks, campers, RVs and a lot of folks. The signs for the place identified it as Elephant Seal Beach and the attraction was a lot of Elephant seals sunning themselves on the sand and a few frolicking in the water just off shore.

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They aren’t dead but are mostly motionless. Every now and then one of them digs up some sand with a flipper and flings the grains up into the breeze, covering its body with a thin crust. I have no idea what that accomplishes, maybe the action distracts some biting flies or other pests. I’m certain they wouldn’t do it unless it accomplished something, and all of them seem to participate from time to time.

The water was an unbelievable blue and, despite all the people, it was another amazing experience to add to my journal.  Many of the folks stopped to chat and pet Charlize. I never cease to be surprised about how easy it is to open a conversation with strangers using her as the “ice-breaker”.

These seals are the Northern Elephant Seal, sea mammals that spend from eight to ten months per year out in the open sea. While out and about, so to speak, they are able to dive from a thousand to as much as five thousand feet down searching for a meal. That is an amazing statistic, as any scuba diver will tell you. Each sixty-three feet below the surface of the water is equal to one atmosphere of pressure.  That means they can withstand almost 80 atmospheres of pressure, enough to crush almost anything made by man and they can stay down for as long as two hours.

Only about one out of six of the seals manage to survive to adulthood. The pups, especially, are vulnerable to a variety of predators, including man. They were hunted almost to extinction, their oil being second in quality to only that of the sperm whale. By the early 1970’s there were only about a hundred of these animals breeding on Guadalupe Island off Baja. Before the U.S. government did anything the small colony was protected by the Mexican government. Our then functional government finally managed to pass the Marine Mammal Protection Act in 1972. By 1999 the total population of these amazing creatures was estimated to be about 150,000 with the Piedras Blancas rookery home to about 18,000. Every now and again we do manage to do something right.

Heading north again we went past Tomales Bay State Park and any number of small towns with somehow familiar names; Cypress Grove, Ocean Roar, Valley Ford, Bodega Bay (something out of a Steinbeck book?), Jenner, then an extremely winding road and passing the Salt Point State Park campground where we spent a night in Frog on our first trip. Eventually we made it to Gualala and checked into the Whale Watch Inn, a charming place with a charming hostess, a great view of the water from my room and Charlize was welcomed and allowed to stay in the room with me. We both prefer that!

 

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Charlize and I are on the road again. We spent two weeks visiting my son and his family in their beautiful new home in Carlsbad, California. Rosalie would have loved the house and the neighborhood, both idyllic.

The trip south from Edmonds was made in two and a half days traveling I-5, fast but boring, even though the drive was a new one for us. Freeway speeds and heavy traffic don’t equate to enjoyment of the experience, at least not for me.

Coming home we left early Sunday morning and managed to clear the Los Angeles traffic before eight AM.  At Santa Clarita we left the I-5 and worked our way west to US 101 and Santa Paula. Then we headed north along the coast. At about ten in the morning we arrived in Gavita and joined CA 1, the Pacific Coast Highway.

In Lompoc we found a coffee shop and I got my two Splenda latte but only after Charlize found a suitable location for a long overdue pee. Since we were in no particular hurry I occupied a table in the sun outside the coffee shop. Charlize was content to lay in the shade I created. Within minutes a lady stopped and asked if she could pet Charlize, who is always open to new friendships. It wasn’t long before I found out she had two German shepherd dogs who were also rescues.

She noticed the Washington plates on Old Blue and it wasn’t long until I found out that her father, in his mid-eighties, lives in Edmonds where she was raised. Her Dad recently had a stroke and she had to move him from his home to a private elder care home. She said the family that owns the place is very nice, very experienced in caring for the elderly and that her Dad had his own little suite in the house. She told me he seems to be happy with his situation but I had the feeling that she was trying to convince herself. After she left us I turned to Charlize:

“You see what we have to look forward to girl? Hopefully you won’t be around when that happens to me. I need to keep my act together until you are ten or twelve, I suppose.”

Charlize looked at me with the quizzical expression she gets when trying to fathom what on earth I’m talking about but only responded with a tail wag. I suppose that is about as much as I can expect in response to a morbid thought. She was happy to leap back into Old Blue.

Back on the road we made our way, twisting and turning, rarely reaching speeds of fifty miles per hour mostly slowing to twenty-five or thirty for the curves. On our left were spectacular ocean vistas, one after another. We found a place for lunch in San Simon and Charlize made friends with an adorable four-year old sitting with her family at the table next to us on the patio.

Matilda’s mother told me it was impossible to keep her away from any dog, she just had to pet all of them. I offered some grandfatherly advice about being too trusting of strange dogs but it was clear that my warning had little effect on either mother or daughter. One more thing on the long list of things I have no control over.

It was a spectacular afternoon driving on the coast highway, stopping every half-hour or so at an overlook just to gaze at the waves coming in and the surf breaking. Eventually we arrived in Monterey. After settling in to the historic Munras Hotel Charlize strolled while I limped to Cannery row where Charlize introduced me to some more friendly folks. Charlize is impatient and fickle though. If the conversation lasts more than three or four minutes and nobody is paying sufficient attention to her, she is anxious to be off to find another new friend.

That evening Charlize and I ate tapas on the dog friendly patio at the hotel and she made friends with all the service staff. I was just along for the experience, and to pay the bill.

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Recently the Gross family gathered at the Chevy Chase Cabins overlooking Discovery Bay for a week. My brother and his family including his son and family who live in Germany along with my two sons and their families. It was great fun and Charlize played well with the granddaughters and grandnieces.

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For two days Charlize and I drove through the Mohave Desert. It’s different, different than the Sonoran Desert of my youth. I grew up in that desert, hiking and camping and loving the harsh environment that required skill and knowledge to survive.

From Indio to Lake Havasu and from there to the Zion National Park we drove through the Mohave. In my book, Man Hunt, I wrote about a trip taken by Tom Tobin from the Taos area to Los Angeles in the 1850’s. As was always the case in those days the trip through the Mohave, from one watering place to the next, was brutal, the way marked by the skeletons of man and beast.

Our trip was a piece of cake. Old Blue, with Frog closely following, clicked off the miles of pavement at a steady pace. The uninitiated might consider the Mohave dull, repetitious, mile after mile of sand, rocks, sagebrush and monotony. It isn’t. The flora is constantly changing as you travel through a wide variety of eco-zones. Late February is too early for the desert to burst into bloom but there are no fewer than two hundred different wild flowers and cacti that bloom in that so called wasteland. I did spot early Mojave gold poppy along the roadside, it’s bright yellow flowers waved to us on narrow leafless stems oscillating in the slipstream as we blew past at sixty miles per hour.

The most common plant I saw was the creosote bush, I know it as greasewood, an evergreen that can grow to more than four feet tall. We stopped to stretch our legs and for Charlize to water the desert and I spotted green ephedra, also known as Mormon Tea. In the southern part of our trip the land was full of sagebrush, salt brush and greasewood. As we travelled north we passed through various, fairly well defined eco-zones dominated by several varieties of yucca, including tall yucca that were almost tree-like, and just beginning to form blossoms. I saw chaparral and, in the washes, paloverde and mesquite.

From Temecula, CA we followed highway CA74 diagonally across the desert to Indio, passing through the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto mountain ranges. Above 3,500 feet I saw some California juniper. In lower areas, where there was water, there were tamarisk trees and palms. The tamarisk I remember from when I was growing up. We had several on one corner of our lot. They were at least forty feet tall, with dark purplish bark. The leaves aren’t leaves, more like scales, and salt encrusted, dirty. We used to climb those trees, but always needed a bath afterwards. You don’t see those dirty, trashy trees much anymore they have been replaced by modern landscaping.

The Mojave Desert is, somehow, more forbidding, more stark, more desolate, than my familiar Sonoran Desert that is full of many varieties of cacti. It must have been a fairly wet fall and winter though, I saw a lot of grass.

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The plaque Charlize is sitting next to says:

“In this place of Solitude and Beauty, please take time to show respect for both the natural surroundings and those who share this highway.”

“Maintain a grateful awareness of the Time given you To share with your Loved Ones and remember those who innocently lost what you may take for granted.”

“Please Drive Safely.”

I had to wipe the tears from my eyes. 

 

 

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Charlize and I are back in San Diego, Carlsbad, CA actually. Frog’s refrigerator was no longer functioning. For reasons unknown when I changed LP gas tanks the refrigerator still ran on the battery or direct electrical hook up, but not on gas. So I took her to a guy who repairs appliances on RVs. We’re fortunate to be in a place with many, many RV parks and experienced people to keep them going. Turns out it was just a loose wire to the igniter, which is what I thought the problem was but, of course I had no idea where the igniter was or how to get to it. Now all systems are functional again.

Yesterday, Sunday morning, my son and I took Bentley and Charlize to the Delmar Dog Beach at Delmar, CA, just south of Carlsbad. Charlize surprised me by going into the water without problems. She and Bentley had a great time with all the other dogs. Everyone was, for the most part, well behaved, particularly the dogs.

 

Charlize and her buddy, Bentley, outside looking in, so forlorn

Charlize and her buddy, Bentley, outside looking in, so forlorn

Bentley and Charlize retrieving in the surf.
Bentley and Charlize retrieving in the surf.

 

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Stayed in a fancy RV park in Fortuna, CA the night of Feb. 5. We had the full hookup at our pull-through space; water, power, TV cable, a dump station. The next day we stayed on U.S. 101 until Leggett then hooked up with highway 1. It became very slow going, but extremely scenic. We stopped at many vistas and a couple of tourist traps. Lunched in a tiny place in Fort Bragg that featured a Wizard of Oz theme and a tasty salad loaded with Dungeness crab. Worked way south, but the road was full of 15 to 20 mph curves, switchbacks and steep grades.

During the day we stopped at three different groves of redwood trees. Only relatively small, protected groves of what were once massive forests. Steinbeck ascribed almost god-like attributes to these three-thousand-plus year old behemoths and when Charlize and I were alone, walking amongst them, I did experience feelings similar to those I felt visiting old world synagogues whose congregants were annihilated. Charlize was subdued, watching me closely as she mirrored the emotions I was feeling.

At three-thirty we started looking for an RV park. The only ones seen were after we passed and the road was too narrow to turn and go back. Stopped at a grocery store in Gualala to purchase some fresh vegetables for dinner and was told about the Salt Point Campgrounds owned and operated by the state. There were no hookups for water, power, cable, no Wi-Fi and no cell phone connection, no sewer dump. The advantage was that, except for two senior ladies living in a RV as “hosts” of the campground, Charlize and I were the sole transient occupants. There was a friendly Park Ranger at the gate talking to a young couple that didn’t stay. He told us that if we walked down to the beach, about a half mile jaunt, we might get a cell signal. Not worth the effort.

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The frustrations of the last four days before my obsessively determined departure date are over. Who would believe that a newly single adult male and his dog could experience so many problems trying to get out of town?  But all came together and Charlize and I, comfortable in Old Blue and pulling the Frog, were the last to board the Edmonds-Kingston ferry.

Old Blue is the 2012 Dodge Ram 1500 in charge of making our journey possible. The Frog is my brand new, excellent and comfortable, albeit slightly crowded with both of us in attendance, R-POD camping trailer. Frog pulls like a dream sticking close to Old Blue’s tail.

The purpose of this road trip is to try to understand what I will do with my remaining years. I’m seventy-six years old and was married to the only girl I ever truly loved for fifty-two of those years. I’m not accustomed to making decisions on my own and Charlize, my just adopted three-year old rescue German shepherd, is a good listener but doesn’t contribute much, except enthusiasm, to the decision-making process.

We traveled familiar roads, taken previously with Rosalie, to Port Townsend, Sequim, and Port Angeles. Once west of Port Angeles we were in new territory. We took a short detour to see what the destruction of the dam had wrought to the Elwha River, now flowing grey with silt and debris, but I hadn’t seen it prior to the return to a more natural state. Undoing our well-meant but destructive “improvements” to Mother Nature may take some time.

Decided, at the last moment to forego the civilized amenities of an RV park in Forks and pressed on to the Kalaloch campgrounds, where my Senior Pass to all the National Parks and Recreational Lands bought a night for only $7, there are sone advantages to being “senior”.

We are about fifty or sixty feet above the beach, where gentle breakers provide soothing, monotonous background to my day of calm healing, away from the reminders of our house, her things and a previous life. Charlize keeps close watch on me. She seems to need respite from her previous life as much as I do.

Half the campground is closed, the road barred by a red and white-stripped railroad-crossing-type gate. I suppose only those seeking solitude find their way to this place, normally rain soaked but now dry. There are thirty odd camping spots in the open half but when I went to bed last night only seven were occupied. Charlize and I walked the place before and after dinner and not a single person greeted us, everyone holed up in their campers. In the fifties my family used to do a lot of car camping, with a luggage trailer and big umbrella tent. The only type of vacation my folks could afford. My sons and I backpacked. Rosalie wasn’t much interested in camping, preferring modern plumbing. I remember campgrounds as friendly places.

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The Start

I was holding her close, cradling her head in my arms when she died. As I write this, it was thirty days, three hours and thirty-six minutes ago. April 23rd we would have celebrated fifty-three years of marriage. I’m coping, sort of.

“Well,” she said, pulling the nasal tube flowing oxygen out of her nostrils, “pretty soon you’ll be able to get a dog.” That happened the week before she passed.

Bear, our last German shepherd died six years ago, we didn’t get another dog.  That is the only period in my life that I can remember, being dog less. Rosalie developed balance problems and we were worried that she would trip or fall over a dog, thus dog less. She knew I missed having a dog and her statement out-of-the-blue was an example of her dark sense of humor. I told her to stop talking nonsense.

The last six months all my prayers were that the end would be fast and with as little pain and discomfort as possible. The diagnosis was stage four-lung cancer. It came on January 4, 2012. The oncologist told us the average statistics were survival for three to six months. We practiced positive thinking and prayer and with her typical quiet determination, Rosalie made it to six months, then eight, then ten and counting. She tired easily but appeared normal to all but me, and our two sons. She needed supplemental oxygen in mid-December and on Dec. 27 the oncologist suggested home hospice care. The hospice people showed up and enrolled her on Jan. 2. She died two days later.

Charlize, pronounced Charley, is a rescue dog, another German shepherd, about three years old. She’s been with me since January 15. We are two injured beings who need each other. The first two days she was apprehensive and distraught but every day since we have bonded more and she is calming. I keep her with me all the time. She is housebroken and vehicle broken (yeah), and fetches a tennis ball like a retriever, good exercise for her and saves my gimpy ankle. On February 1 Charlize and I will embark on an extended road trip. We will meet new friends, both people and dogs, and should have some interesting tales to tell. You can follow our adventures here.

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To recap, in the previous five columns we have listed many plants that contain toxins that could be injurious to your dog, cat or horse. Because of their size and propensity to chew almost anything kittens and puppies are at higher risk. Now I want to cover plants not previously classified.

The Umbrella Leaf also known as the Indian Apple Root, American Mandrake, Wild Lemon, Hog Apple, Duck’s Foot, Raccoon berry and American Mandrake accumulates the toxin podophylin. Ingestion can result in gastroenteritis, lethargy, respiratory distress and in rare instances coma. Contact with the skin can cause inflammation and skin ulcers. Iris (Snake Lily, Water Flag or Flag) contains three pentacyclic terpenoids known as zeorin, missourin and missouriensin. Highest concentrations of these toxins are in the rhizomes. Ingestion results in irritation of the oral mucous membranes and gastroenteritis. The Chinaberry Tree (Bead Tree, China Ball Tree, Paradise Tree, Persian Lilac, White Cedar, Japanese Bead Tree, Texas Umbrella Tree, Pride-of-India) accumulates tetranortriterpenes (meliatoxins) in the bark, leaves and flowers but the ripe berries are the most toxic. Ingestion can result in diarrhea, vomiting (not in horses), hyper-salivation, depression, weakness, and in rare cases seizures.

The American Mistletoe, Phoradendron flavescens, contains lectins and phoratoxins that can cause gastroenteritis, cardiovascular collapse, respiratory distress, and erratic behavior. It is hallucinogenic in humans, but do not be tempted, the GI and other effects predominate and are far from pleasant. Ingesting the young sprouts, seeds, bark or pruned twigs of the Locust tree causes significant gastroenteritis, anorexia (loss of appetite), depression, stupor, generalized weakness with rear end paralysis, cold extremities, dilated pupils, dyspnea (difficult breathing), a weak and irregular pulse, and bloody diarrhea. Horses that recover from eating this plant can develop chronic laminitis. The toxic principles of the Locust tree are toxalbumins.

The Peony contains the toxin paeonol and can cause gastroenteritis in horses, dogs and cats. The Gardenia (Cape Jasmine) contains genioposide and gardenoside, also resulting in gastro-intestinal upset. Baby’s Breath (Maidens Breath) contains gyposenin yet another cause of gastroenteritis. More gastroenteritis results from many cultivars of Geranium (containing geraniol, linalool). Garlic plants (Stinking Rose, Rustic Treacle, Camphor of the Poor, Nectar of the Gods, Serpent Garlic, Rocambole) contain N-propyl disulfide and toxic doses can cause gastroenteritis and a breakdown of red blood cells resulting in hemolytic anemia, Heinz body anemia, blood in the urine, generalized weakness, abnormally high heart rates and dyspnea.  The

Cardinal Flower (Lobelia, Indian Pink) contains lobeline and ingestion can result in depression gastroenteritis, abdominal pain and abnormal cardiac rhythms. Tulips contain Tulipalin A & B with highest concentrations in the bulbs. Ingestion causes gastroenteritis, depression, and hyper-salivation. The Sweet Pea (Perennial Pea, Everlasting Pea) accumulates aminoproprionitrite and ingestion can cause weakness, lethargy, pacing, head pressing, tremors, seizures and death. Ingestion of sufficient quantities of the Buckwheat plant, containing fagopyrin, can result in photosensitization and ulcerative and exudative dermatitis.

Several plants in which the toxic principle has not yet been identified, can cause mild to severe gastroenteritis. These include; Dahlias (many varieties), Chinese Jade (Silver Jade, Silver Dollar), Buddhist Pine (Yew Pine, Japanese Yew, Southern Yew, Podocarpus), Norfolk Pine (Australian Pine, House Pine, Island Pine), Horseweed (Showy Daisy, Fleabane, Seaside Daisy) and Hibiscus (Rose of Sharon, Rose of China).

Several varieties of Lily (Rubrum Lily, Asian Lily, many varieties of Day Lily and Easter Lily appear to be toxic only to cats. The toxic principle is unknown but ingestion can result in gastroenteritis, lethargy, kidney failure and death.

Gold Dust Dracaena (Florida Beauty), the Red-Marginated Dracaena (Straight-Marginated Dracaena) and the Striped Dracaena (Warneckii, Janet Craig Plant) all contain an unknown toxin that causes gastroenteritis, depression, incoordination and weakness in both dogs and cats but dilated pupils, abdominal pain, and tachycardia (increased heart rate) only in cats. The Madagascar Dragon Tree is also only toxic to dogs and cats. Ingestion of this plant causes gastroenteritis, depression and in cats dilated pupils.

One last time, if you think your animal has ingested, or been in contact with, any of these hundreds of plants that contain toxic substances and is showing any of the described signs get the animal to your veterinarian. Only a few of the plants are toxic enough to be fatal but even the mild toxicants can cause unwarranted distress that should be relieved.

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Plants that contain glycosides can be very harmful to pets. If your pet ingests any of the plants mentioned in these columns and is showing signs of illness, get him/her to your veterinarian post haste.

The most well known and classic of the cardiac glycoside plants is foxglove, Digitalis purpurea. We have known about the medicinal properties of this plant for centuries. Teas made from the plant were used as a diuretic and to slow the heart and the active ingredient digitalis is still an important drug used to treat heart failure. If ingested in large quantities, the plant can cause cardiac arrhythmias, vomiting, diarrhea, progressive weakness, cardiac failure and death.

The Oleander (Rose-Bay) also contains cardiac glycosides. When I practiced in Phoenix, AZ many backyards had Oleander bushes as hedges and I treated several horses for Oleander poisoning. Well-intentioned owners had mowed the lawn too close to the bushes mixing clippings from the Oleanders in with the grass clippings and fed everything to the horse (feeding grass clippings to horses is not a good idea under any circumstances). The Mock Azalea (Desert Rose, Desert Azalea, Sabi Star, Impala Lily, Kudu Lily) also contains cardiac glycosides.

Bufadienolides, another form of cardiac glycosides, are found in the Christmas Rose (Hellebore, Lenten Rose, Easter Rose) and the Mother-in-Law-Plant (Mother of Millions, Kalanchoe, Devils Backbone, Chandelier Plant). These plants are less toxic than those mentioned in the previous paragraph. Clinical signs include hypersalivation, abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea and, rarely, abnormal heart rhythm.

Cyanogenic glycosides (cyanide) are found in the stems, leaves and pits of Rosaceae plants. These include Apricots, Plums, Peaches, Cherries and cyanide is particularly high when the plants are in the process of wilting. Clinical signs include; brick red mucous membranes, dilated pupils, difficulty breathing, panting, shock and death. The Hortensia (Hydrangea, Hills of Snow, Seven Bark) plant and the Heavenly Bamboo (Sacred Bamboo, Nandina) also contain cyanogenic glycosides but rarely produce anything more than gastroenteritis if ingested.

The Common Privet (Privet, Amur, Wax-leaf) contains terpenoid glycosides that can result in gastroenteritis, incoordination and abnormally high heart rates but ingestion of this plant is rarely fatal. Clematis (Virgin’s Bower, Leatherflower) contains the irritant glycoside protoanemonin but ingestion only causes mild salivation, vomiting and diarrhea.

Various species of Milkweed (Ascieplas species) contain steroidal glycosidic cardenolides and are cardiotoxic, other species contain neurotoxins. Clinical signs following ingestions include vomiting, profound depression, weakness, anorexia (loss of appetite) and diarrhea. If large quantities are ingested these signs may be followed by seizures, dyspnea (difficult breathing) weak and rapid pulse, dilated pupils, kidney and/or liver failure, coma, respiratory paralysis and irreversible death.

Plants that contain volatile oils can cause contact dermatitis, vomiting, diarrhea, anorexia, and allergic reactions. Long term exposure can lead to bleeding tendencies. Chamomile (Manzanilla, Garden Chamomile, Roman Chamomile, True Chamomile, Corn Feverfew, Barnyard Daisy, Ground-Apple, Turkey-Weed) and Mayweed (Poison Daisy, Stinking Chamomile) contain the volatile oils; bisabolol and chamazulene as well as anthemic and tannic acids. The American Yew contains Taxine A & B and volatile oil. Ingestion of this plant can result in tremors, dyspnea, vomiting and sudden death from acute heart failure. Dogs poisoned by Yew are reported to have seizures.

Ricin is one of the most deadly toxins we know of. The Mole Bean Plant, Ricinus communis, is native to the tropics but is grown in North America as an ornamental or as a crop for castor oil. It is also known as the Castor Bean Plant, African Wonder Tree or the Castor Bean. Ricin inhibits protein synthesis and ingestion of as little as one ounce of the seeds of this plant can be lethal. Clinical signs usually develop 12 to 48 hours after ingestion of any portion of the plant and start with anorexia, excessive thirst, followed by weakness, abdominal pain, trembling, incoordination, dyspnea, progressive central nervous system depression and fever. As the toxicity progresses the animal can have bloody diarrhea, convulsions, coma and death.

The Cardboard Palm (Cycads and Zamias) contain Cycasin, related to ricin. Ingestion can result in vomiting, increased thirst, hemorrhagic gastroenteritis, coagulapathies resulting in bruising and other bleeding, liver damage followed by liver failure characterized by yellowing of the mucous membranes (icterus) and death. The Indian Rubber Plant (Fig, Weeping Fig) contains the proteolytic enzyme ficin and psoralen (ficusin) also related to ricin but mild toxicants. Skin contact can result in dermatitis while ingestion can cause oral irritation, excessive salivation and vomiting.

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