THE POISON GARDEN website      Arum maculatum berries on a Cannabis leaf 

Search thepoisongarden.co.uk:

This free script provided by JavaScript Kit

Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

Sunday 14th August 2011

Something is eating my deadly nightshade. It’s three weeks since I posted a photo-blog of the berries developing on my Atropa belladonna and said I would post again with the ripe berries. I’m still waiting for the berries to ripen, and the absence of sunshine for most of the last three weeks suggests I may still have to wait a while.

Atropa belladonna, deadly nightshade

Atropa belladonna, deadly nightshade

Atropa belladonna, deadly nightshade

But, now, the question is whether whatever is eating the plant will complete its work before the berries get the chance to ripen.

It’s a very practical example of the fact, which is sometimes ignored, that a substance is not always a poison to every creature.  I’ve written before 30th June about the situation regarding bees and toxins getting into honey but it is not just bees that can tolerate things humans would find toxic.

The two particular instances I refer to about the difference between species are Nepeta faassenii, catmint, and Conium maculatum, poison hemlock.

It is well-known that cats are attracted to catmint, or catnip as it is sometimes called. There is little doubt that the plant is psychoactive for felines but, I think, calling it ‘cannabis for cats’, whilst alliteratively pleasing, is wrong. Its effect on cats seems to be exciting, at least initially, rather than the sort of calming ‘chilling out’ effect usually ascribed to cannabis. Mind you, the excitation does seem to be of limited duration and is followed by a more narcotic effect.

It was the effect of Nepeta faassenii on the feral cat who lived in the Alnwick Garden that gave me the title ‘Is That Cat Dead?’ for my book. Digger, a female cat who appeared on the site early in the construction phase, would come into the Poison Garden, almost every afternoon, thrash around in the catmint and then, when the excitation subsided, sleep it off under the Artemisia absinthium. The sleep was so deep that numerous visitors would ask about her condition and I’m not convinced there were not some who really thought we would leave a dead animal on display.

I have had, thankfully just a few, people ask if the cat pictured on the cover of the book is dead. One reason I went with that design was that it only takes a brief application of common sense to realise that no-one would think that was a good way to encourage sales. And applying common sense is so often the best way of approaching the more extravagant claims about poisonous plants and their effects.

Nepeta faaseenii, catmint

Nepeta faaseenii, catmint

So, if every creature responded to plants in the same way, you would expect catmint to be an intoxicant for human beings. Instead it has the reputation, I stress that it is just a reputation not a scientifically established fact, of causing anger and hatred if ingested by man. That leads to the story that the hangman would consume catmint on a working day in order to put him in the right frame of mind to kill complete strangers.

The other plant where the difference in effects is significant is Conium maculatum, poison hemlock. The principal alkaloid is called coniine and is a peripheral nervous system poison to humans. That is, it causes a numbing paralysis in the extremities that spreads up the body before causing paralysis of the chest producing death from asphyxiation.

For birds, however, coniine has no effect and is not metabolised at all. This means it is stored in the tissue unchanged. This has led to documented cases of illness and, even, death in those, especially in southern Europe, who catch and eat migrating birds as they move south in the autumn.

So, I’m sure that whatever is eating my deadly nightshade is suffering no consequences though I might wish it were otherwise.  

 

Full Entries

2016

Tuesday 25th October 2016
Saturday 20th August 2016
Sunday 6th March 2016
Wednesday 3rd February 2016

2015

Saturday 28th November 2015
Friday 27th November 2015
Monday 17th August 2015
Wednesday 15th July 2015
Friday 26th June 2015
Thursday 25th June 2015
Thursday 30th April 2015
Wednesday 29th April 2015
Wednesday 11th March 2015
Tuesday 3rd March 2015
Saturday 28th February 2015
Sunday 22nd February 2015

November 2014

Monday 24th November 2014
Saturday 8th November 2014

October 2014

September 2014

Wednesday 24th September 2014
Monday 1st September 2014

August 2014

Tuesday 26th August 2014
Saturday 16th August 2014
Tuesday 5th August 2014
Friday 1st August 2014

July 2014

Sunday 27th July 2014
Wednesday 23rd July 2014
Sunday 13th July 2014
Sunday 6th July 2014
Tuesday 1st July 2014

June 2014

Wednesday 25th June 2014
Tuesday 24th June 2014
Sunday 22nd June 2014
Monday 9th June 2014
Wednesday 4th June 2014

May 2014

Monday 26th May 2014
Sunday 18th May 2014
Wednesday 14th May 2014

April 2014

Sunday 13th April 2014
Saturday 5th April 2014
Thursday 3rd April 2014
Tuesday 1st April 2014

March 2014

Monday 31st March 2014
Tuesday 25th March 2014
Friday 21st March 2014
Monday 17th March 2014
Sunday 16th March 2014
Tuesday 11th March 2014
Tuesday 11th March 2014
Thursday 6th March 2014
Wednesday 5th March 2014
Saturday 1st March 2014

February 2014

Thursday 27th February 2014
Monday 24th February 2014
Wednesday 19th February 2014
Monday 17th February 2014
Thursday 13th February 2014
Monday 4th February 2014
Monday 3rd February 2014
Saturday 1st February 2014

January 2014

Thursday 28th January 2014
Thursday 23rd January 2014
Friday 17th January 2014
Wednesday 15th January 2014
Monday 13th January 2014
Thursday 9th January 2014
Tuesday 7th January 2014
Wednesday 1st January 2014

December 2013

Monday 23rd December 2013
Friday 20th December 2013
Tuesday 17th December 2013
Friday 14th December 2013
Thursday 12th December 2013
Sunday 8th December 2013
Wednesday 4th December 2013
Sunday 1st December 2013

November 2013

Friday 29th November 2013
Wednesday 27th November 2013
Tuesday 26th November 2013
Friday 22nd November 2013
Monday 18th November 2013
Friday 15th November 2013
Thursday 14th November 2013
Sunday 10th November 2013
Thursday 7th November 2013
Wednesday 6th November 2013
Friday 1st November 2013

October 2013

Thursday 31st October 2013
Sunday 27th October 2013
Wednesday 23rd October 2013
Monday 21st October 2013
Friday 18th October 2013
Friday 11th October 2013
Wednesday 9th October 2013
Tuesday 8th October 2013
Monday 7th October 2013
Tuesday 1st October 2013

September 2013

Monday 30th September 2013
Saturday 28th September 2013
Friday 27th September 2013
Monday 23rd September 2013
Sunday 15th September 2013
Monday 9th September 2013
Tuesday 3rd September 2013
Sunday 1st September 2013

August 2013

Sunday 8th September 2013
Tuesday 3rd September 2013
Sunday 1st September 2013

Tuesday 27th August 2013
Sunday 25th August 2013
Monday 19th August 2013
Friday 16th August 2013
Tuesday 13th August 2013
Friday 9th August 2013
Friday 2nd August 2013
Thursday 1st August 2013

July 2013

Saturday 27th July 2013
Sunday 21st July 2013
Wednesday 17th July 2013
Monday 15th July 2013
Saturday 13th July 2013
Friday 12th July 2013
Thursday 11th July 2013
Wednesday 10th July 2013
Tuesday 9th July 2013
Saturday 6th July 2013

June 2013

Friday 28th June 2013
Tuesday 25th June 2013
Friday 21st June 2013
Thursday 20th June 2013
Wednesday 19th June 2013
Saturday 15th June 2013
Sunday 9th June 2013
Saturday 8th June 2013
Saturday 1st June 2013
 

May 2013

April 2013

March 2013

February 2013

January 2013

December 2012

November 2012

October 2012

September 2012

August 2012

July 2012 blog

June 2012 blog

May 2012 blog

April 2012 blog

March 2012 blog

February 2012 blog

January 2012 blog

December 2011 blog

November 2011 blog

October 2011 blog

September 2011 blog

August 2011 blog

July 2011 blog

June 2011 blog



IMPORTANT NOTE

The POISON GARDEN website is not connected with Alnwick Garden Enterprises Ltd and/or The Alnwick Garden Trust.