THE POISON GARDEN website       Arum maculatum berries on a Cannabis leaf 

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Welcome to THE POISON GARDEN website

...because every garden is a poison garden.

The purpose of THE POISON GARDEN website is to provide insights, many of them amusing, into the human race's long relationship with substances that have the potential to cause harm.

Since the beginning of June 2011, I've been writing a blog about poisonous plants, especially current news stories when a plant is involved.

You can access the blog here.

But, before going any further, it's important to understand that accidental plant poisoning is very unusual and only very rarely do people suffer serious harm. Death from accidental ingestion of a poisonous plant, in its natural state, is exceptionally unusual.

I'm John Robertson and I've spent ten years researching, writing and talking about poisonous plants. I was involved with the Alnwick Garden Poison Garden for over four years and researched the stories told during Poison Garden tours as well as verifying, as far as possible, information provided by visitors.

Though the Poison Garden website comes about because of the knowledge about poison plants I developed in order to perform my role as Poison Garden Warden at the Alnwick Garden, neither John Robertson nor this site is in any way connected with Alnwick Garden Enterprises Ltd and/or The Alnwick Garden Trust.

As well as running this website and publishing a book about the questions most often asked about poisonous plants, I give talks about aspects of the subject.

Down the right-hand side of this page, you'll find the opening paragraphs from the main areas of the site to help you to decide how you want to proceed.

A bee feeds on monkshood

A bee feeds on monkshood

The 'A to Z of Poison Plants' page leads to the section giving information on over 90 different poisonous plants, what they do, what used to be believed about them and what is still thought of them today. This section is not intended to be an exhaustive guide to all poisonous plants and contains much information which is anecdotal. For a reference book on plants, in the UK, which might pose hazards to children, I recommend 'Poisonous Plants: a guide for parents and childcare providers'.

It cannot be said too often that poisonous plants cause far less harm than might be expected. In 'Accidental poisoning deaths in British children 1958-77' published by the British Medical Journal, Neil C Fraser reports on a total of 598 poisoning deaths of children under 10 years of age. In the period covered only three deaths were attributed to plants. Even this low number is overstated since one death was due to fungi and in one of the other two 'the role of ingestion in the child's demise is doubtful'. Thus there may have been only one confirmed plant death, with 'hemlock' being the plant responsible, in twenty years. Fraser's analysis makes it clear that medication, household cleaning materials and cosmetics pose a much higher risk than poison plants.

Many of the old stories about the plants seem to us to be pretty silly. How foolish our ancestors were for believing that planting a particular plant near the house would guard against evil spirits.

How foolish our descendants will think we are for believing that the secret of a good night out is to snort a line or coke or drink huge amounts of alcohol.

The number of cases of accidental plant poisoning is so small that very few countries trouble to keep any sort of detail track of incidents. In 1996, however, a paper appeared giving detailed information for Switzerland. Though it would be wrong to suggest that the results are entirely typical of the whole world, they do give an idea of how small the problem of accidental plant poisoning really is. More detail from the Swiss paper is available here.

But, this is plants in their natural state. It is when products are made from them that the trouble starts. Deliberate consumption of intoxicants like alcohol, tobacco or heroin cause many millions of deaths every year but people know the risks they take in consuming such substances.

Of greater concern are the 'natural' remedies which people take not knowing that they contain deadly poison. Plants in the Aristolochia genus, probably, cause more deaths than any other plant outside of those I call the Phantastica.