THE POISON GARDEN website      Arum maculatum berries on a Cannabis leaf 


This free script provided by JavaScript Kit

Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

Saturday 17th March 2012

The Internet is, of course, an indispensable resource when it comes to finding out what’s new and it is becoming an increasingly useful tool for researching history as more and more archive material is digitised. But I was a little taken aback when an article that I expected to be something new turned out to be nearly forty years old.

But I was delighted when I realised that it might provide the answer to a riddle that has troubled me about the Laburnum tree for some time.



On 25th October 2011, in a blog entry about deciding what is a real risk and what is just over-reaction to risk, I wrote;

‘On the Laburnum page in the A to Z section, I write ‘in a 1979 contribution to ‘The Lancet’ entitled ‘Have you Eaten Laburnum?’, R M Forrester says that there are around 3,000 hospital admissions due to Laburnum poisoning each year’. Yet, there are no reported incidents of serious harm being done to any of those children.

‘My belief is that press coverage, probably, created a heightened expectation of the danger posed by Laburnum and resulted in those very high figures.’

It seems I may have been wrong and the press are not, directly, to be blamed for the surfeit of alleged Laburnum poisonings in the late ‘70s.

The Internet piece I came across was an edited reprint of an article in ‘Look and Learn’ from 28th September 1974. The piece was entitled ‘Beautiful but deadly – poisonous plants in gardens and allotments’.

‘Look and Learn’ was a weekly educational magazine for children, first published in 1962. Though circulation tailed off and it closed down in 1982, at the height of its popularity it sold around 300,000 copies a week. Its combination of educational articles and comic strips made it an interesting read for the children of the time.

Laburnum seedpods

Laburnum seedpods

The article covers a number of plants some of them the ‘usual suspects’ like rhubarb leaves from Rheum x hybridum, Convallaria majalis (lily of the valley), Arum maculatum (lords and ladies), and Helleborus niger (Christmas rose), and others a little more surprising like potato, tomato and privet hedge.

Unfortunately, it does include errors; for example, it includes Eranthis hyemalis (winter aconite), rather than Aconitum napellus (monkshood).

But, it begins with Laburnum and, also, gets that wrong. It claims that Laburnum has ‘been found to be’ the cause of more plant poisonings in the UK than any other plant. I find ‘has been found to be’ an interesting choice of words. It suggests that the author of the piece wants to be able to deny responsibility if anyone questions that statement.

It also says that ‘nobody should ever touch’ the bark or the seeds before saying, in the same sentence, that ingestion can lead to death. I think it is quite plausible that a reader could come away with the idea that contact could cause death and it must be remembered that, in the ‘70s, parents would be quite likely to read what their children were reading.

It seems to me that this article might have contributed to the bad reputation enjoyed by Laburnum even though evidence of actual poisonings is not easy to find. I’m not claiming a complete answer but I am hoping that, in time, more publications from the ‘70s will be available online and it will be possible to see if ‘Look and Learn’s’ exaggerated view of the threat posed by Laburnum was picked up by others so that it did become the cause of more suspected plant poisonings than any other plant in the UK.


Full Entries


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


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


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