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Rotenone Insecticide

- A natural insecticde from roots -

Summary: Rotenone is a natural insecticide extracted from the roots of certain tropical plants. It is a broad spectrum, relatively low toxicity insecticide for use in gardens but it is also highly toxic to fish and is sometimes used to eliminate unwanted fish from lakes.

Jack DeAngelis, PhD
OSU Ext. Entomologist (ret.)

What is rotenone?

Rotenone is a natural insecticide that is extracted from the roots of several different plants that grow in the tropics. While rotenone exhibits moderate to low toxicity as a garden insecticide it is highly toxic to fish and invertebrates and, in fact, was originally used by indigenous people to help capture fish. Today it is widely used by gardeners as a natural insecticide and by fish managers to kill unwanted, non-native fish from lakes. Therefore when used by home gardeners take care to avoid application to any body of water such as ponds, fountains, or streams that are home to fish.

other common names: derris

chemical structure of rotenone

chemical structrure of rotenone; drawing from wikipedia


Rotenone breaks down rapidly in sunlight so is generally less damaging to beneficial insect species than are synthetic pesticides that are more persistent. While most rotenone formulations are only moderately toxic to mammals, including us, some concentrated, liquid formulations are highly toxic. Rotenone is available as a powder (dust) and concentrated liquid, sometimes in combination with other insecticides.

Rotenone is a broad spectrum insecticide and is therefore used for a variety of garden and landscape pests. One of the more useful, and least toxic, products combines low concentration liquid rotenone with pyrethrum (see specimen label below).

Do not use rotenone-containing products on dogs or cats for flea and tick control. We believe there are safer alternatives now available for controlling fleas on your pets.

Rotenone is rapidly broken down by sunlight which is both an advantage and disadvantage. Because it breaks down rapidly it does not accumulate in the environment and harm non-target organisms. However, it must be re-applied at short intervals (see label below) and is usually applied in the evening.

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Download this specimen label for an example of a product that contains rotenone and pyrethrin (pyrethrum). Please note: specimen labels can vary between products; follow the instructions for the actual product you are using.



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Jack DeAngelis, Ph.D.

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