Are Rhododendron And Mountain Laurel Truly Toxic To Burn In A Campfire?

Gathering around the campfire must be one of your best experiences. However, the toxic smoke from the fire may ruin your trip. Hence, choosing the wood to burn is essential.

Many campers don’t like rhododendron and mountain laurel because of the grayanotoxins found in these types of wood. But are rhododendron and mountain laurel truly toxic to burn in a campfire?

We will explain the answer in this article. You can also learn more about woods to avoid. So let’s get into the details!

Are Rhododendron and Mountain Laurel Truly Toxic To Burn In A Campfire?

Yes. Both rhododendrons and mountain laurel wood have grayanotoxins, which are toxic substances that cause severe health problems when inhaled or eaten. 

What are grayanotoxins?

Grayanotoxins refer to toxins in some Ericaceae plants, such as rhododendrons, mountain laurels, and azaleas. These plants produce toxins as a defense system against herbivores.

These toxins get their name from a Japanese plant called Leucothoe grayana. There are over 25 grayanotoxins found in rhododendrons.

Grayanotoxins have another name: mad honey. It’s because honey gathered by bees from grayanotoxin-containing plants might contain significant quantities of the toxin.

Grayanotoxins are present in rhododendron plants’ flowers, leaves, and pollen. The severity of the symptom varies depending on how many grayanotoxins you consume and your sensitivity to them.

Eating mad honey might result in grayanotoxin poisoning symptoms, such as dizziness, cardiac arrhythmia, and gastrointestinal distress.

Why shouldn’t you burn grayanotoxins?

Grayanotoxin-containing plants are most dangerous when consumed. Fire may burn the toxins. However, the smoke is unhealthy. If inhaled, the grayanotoxins will cause irritation and damage to your respiratory system.

Toxin concentrations in rhododendron/mountain laurel smoking may be low. But better safe than sorry.

If you don’t have any other option than burning rhododendron and mountain laurel, bear in mind these tips while working with them:

  • Do not sit too close to the campfire.
  • Be careful while chopping the wood because grayanotoxins rest in many parts of the tree.
  • Keep the campfire area away from combustible materials.

Woods You Shouldn’t Burn In A Campfire

Woods can burn, but not all of them can burn safely. Here are some types of woods you should avoid at all costs.


Driftwood may include toxic substances, such as creosote and other chemicals used for wood treatment. They can release harmful particles and gas when burned. If you inhale any of them, your respiratory system will suffer.

Besides, you may also experience nausea, fatigue, headache, muscle pain, and liver issues. Those effects are more severe on children.

Last but not least, it’s not easy to burn driftwood because it has a high moisture content. Moreover, some may have become rotten, reducing their efficiency.


Collecting pine wood in your campground is easy. Unfortunately, you’d better pick other branches because of the potential issues caused by burning pine wood.

First, this type of wood has a lot of resin and sap. If you set them on fire, they will spark more, sometimes burning the combustible materials nearby.

In addition, pine wood releases more smoke and pollutants than many types of wood. The smoke will harm your health and pollute the campsite.


Greenwood refers to the wood we just cut from a tree. It was still alive before we added it to the campfire.

We chop green wood into small pieces, let them dry, and burn them. After the drying process, the wood should only contain no more than 20% moisture.

So, if you burn green wood which is still wet, its water content will interact with fire and boil. Its evaporation process afterward may prevent the log from catching fire and producing heat energy.

With some luck, you can burn green wood. However, the smoke will fill up the whole atmosphere. You can’t even breathe then,

Furniture wood

Furniture and construction wood come with synthetic materials, stains, paints, and finishes. All of them will emit toxic chemicals and fumes when burned. And as you may expect, they will harm your health.

Moreover, manufacturers may use hardwood and softwood to make furniture wood. Those materials burn at different temperatures. As a result, you can’t control your campfire and maintain the temperature consistently.

Furthermore, furniture wood contains adhesive materials. When they ignite, you will deal with a lot of residue and ash.

Habitat wood

Habitat wood is the wood you find from fallen logs or branches in nature. Although it won’t cause health issues, you should be aware of how it can affect the ecosystem.

Taking habitat wood from nature will affect the ecosystems negatively as you disrupt the natural habitat and food sources of wildlife animals.

Additionally, burning habitat wood may start wildfires, especially if you camp in dry conditions. Once small embers spread, there will be a risk of significant damage to the environment and yourself.

Moreover, most camping areas have rules regarding the type of wood you can use, regardless of your purpose. They often ban removing habitat wood to light up your campfire. So you check with the facility manager before gathering the wood.


Is it a bad idea to burn rhododendron/mountain laurel? Even when the toxins will lessen when burnt, you should avoid it because of the grayanotoxin content.

Aside from the rhododendron and mountain laurel, you should be aware of other dangerous types of woods. Then, you can enjoy the beauty of the campfire without risking your health!

Thank you for reading!

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