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Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

Friday 1st July 2011

I’ve spent most of the day building a photo gallery for 2011 and I really wish roses were poisonous.

I’ve got some nice looking roses out in the garden at the moment and, thanks to the clever people who designed and built my new camera, I’ve got some pretty good pictures of them. But, as the photo gallery is part of this site, I can’t put them up to show off.

Pat Austin rose

Actually, I’ve had a naughty thought. Suppose I were to put some pictures of my roses onto the gallery with no explanation. I wonder how long it would be before someone took that to mean that roses were dangerous for more than giving you a nasty prick with the thorns whenever you try and deadhead them. Given the way Chinese whispers spread on the Internet, it might not be long before most people believed roses were poisonous.

It would count as a real win if a proper horticulturalist accepted this and added something to their website about how they never knew before that roses could be harmful. That plus the appearance of stories about someone knowing someone who died just from scattering a few rose petals in the bath.

I used to know a hotel owner who would go to a small town and ask for directions to the cathedral. He was so good at insisting there was one that people who had lived in the town for many years would be convinced.

Of course, I’m just fantasising, I wouldn’t do something like that. The Internet is full enough of wrong information without adding to it, intentionally. I added ‘intentionally’ because I’m sure I’ve made a good few additions of wrong information in my time but, in my defence, I try to check information from independent sources and I’ll always correct an error if someone points one out.

Making certain that you are looking at independent sources is not always easy. There are plenty of references on different websites to the sweetness of Atropa belladonna berries. It would be easy to assume that these different sources prove that the berries are sweet. Except that they aren’t. The taste is insipid and not unpleasant but it is no more than sweetish. Closer examination of the references to great sweetness always leads back to ‘A Modern Herbal’ by Maud Grieve. You will find more about this book on the Rheum x hybridum, rhubarb, page of this site.

Mind you, there is an argument in favour of giving false information in a publication. Mapmakers, these days, I’m told, will include a few pieces of erroneous information deliberately so that they can see if someone has copied their publication without permission. On something as complex and detailed as a map it is possible to make errors that are unlikely to cause any serious problems for legitimate users. But if, say, I put up a page about the many deaths arising from people smelling the Dahlia I think people would begin to question all of the information on this site.

I suppose because it’s been several hours work to put the new gallery together and I’ve done it on a day when I have also done a lot of washing and housework, I’m feeling a bit whimsical now but there is a more serious side to the question of right and wrong information when it comes to the psychoactive substances. If you claim to be interested in helping young people avoid the harm that misuse of these substances can cause but then misrepresent the true potential for that harm you destroy all your credibility and any accurate information you may wish to impart becomes fatally tainted.

And, of course, if you misrepresent the harm something like ricin could do if used by a terrorist then you do the terrorists’ job for them.