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Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

Monday 12th March 2012

Confusion over common names for plants caused me some excitement for a little while after one of my Google alerts took me to this item, ‘Biocontrol agents make their mark’ in Farmers Weekly.

The article is about the possibility that biological control agents, which have been used for many years in controlled environments like greenhouses, may be about to enter the world of arable farming. One reason for this is that increasing regulation and pressure from supermarkets is making chemical controls more difficult and costly to use.

The piece goes on to describe one product that attacks fungi and says that its use for horticulture may be about to extend to potatoes because so many problems with potatoes are fungal in origin.

I’m giving that background to explain why I didn’t immediately see something was wrong when the piece turned its attention to another biocontrol known as reysa and extracted, according to Farmers Weekly, from giant hogweed.

I’ve written before about the research suggesting that plants produce furocoumarins to combat attacks from a root fungus so seeing giant hogweed mentioned in connection with fungal control sounded perfectly plausible.

Heracleum mantegazzianum, giant hogweed


Heracleum mantegazzianum, giant hogweed

My mind was already starting to think about the problems that would arise from growing giant hogweed commercially to extract the biocontrol even as I searched for more information on raysa. I immediately decided that there would be enough for my usual length of blog entry in considering all the aspects involved. But those thoughts came to an abrupt end when I found that ‘raysa’ is a name given to an extract of Reynoutria sachalinensis, known as giant knotweed.

If you followed the link, above, you may be wondering what I was on about. I posted a comment to Farmers Weekly and, though it doesn’t appear on the page, they did get it because the article has been altered to read ‘giant knotweed’.

There is no way anyone could confuse Fallopia japonica, Reynoutria sachalinensis and Heracleum mantegazzianum but you can easily see how confusion can arise between Japanese knotweed, giant knotweed and giant hogweed can occur. That’s why you sometimes read about giant hogweed being capable of breaking through concrete or Japanese knotweed causing skin burns.

By coincidence, I also read this piece from the Telegraph about the problems with spelling the botanical names of plants. It just goes to show there are always two ways of looking at things.