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.

Tuesday 5th August 2014

I got into a bit of a discussion with representatives of the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) the other day mostly about plant naming and it came back to my mind after a surge in traffic to this site on Sunday that was due to confusion over plant names.

The RHS has a page on its website about Jacobaea vulgaris (syn. Senecio jacobaea), common ragwort, except that it calls it just Senecio jacobaea. My first query was why the internationally agreed name wasn’t shown to which the reply was that Senecio jacobaea is the name used in ‘New Flora of the British Isles’ by Clive Stace and that is the reference document RHS botanists ‘tend to follow’.

I have two problems with that. One is that it fails to appreciate that websites are available worldwide and it is very parochial to use a naming convention that refers only to the British Isles and the other is that, to me, relying on a printed reference work that inevitably goes out of date is rather old fashioned.

Though it may seem cumbersome to some, I always use Jacobaea vulgaris (syn. Senecio jacobaea), common ragwort, at least once in any piece dealing with common ragwort.

The bigger problem, however, is that the article says that Senecio jacobaea is the plants ‘Latin name’. The response to my querying this was interesting. It says ‘…our preferred phrase is scientific name but Latin name is widely understood’. I assume this means that the RHS does not have the sort of style guide major publishers usually have because that would tell writers what terms to use. It also seems that ‘preferred’ is not to be taken to mean ‘enforced’ because the article still says ‘Latin name’ days after the reply suggesting this was not the best way to label a plant name.

I also have a problem with the notion that ‘Latin name is widely understood’. For me, the way that ‘Latin name’ is widely understood is that it is the ‘posh’ name for plants that is used by intellectual snobs to show they are more intelligent than the ordinary run of people. I’ve complained before Monday 20th June 201  that Alan Titchmarsh practices a sort of reverse snobbery by dismissing the use of botanical, or scientific, names on the basis that Latin is nowt to do wi’ ordinary folk.

Saying plants have Latin names is a disincentive to people using those names. My constant example is that no-one struggles to call a Toyota Yaris a Toyota Yaris on the basis that this is a foreign name that only people who have studied for a long time can understand. If everyone adopted the idea that plants have botanical names people would, over time, get over their prejudice against using them.

And the proper naming of plants matters as my experience over the weekend shows.

Every morning I look at the visitor statistics for the previous day. These are not detailed (I don’t use cookies so get no personal information about visitors) but they give an idea of traffic levels. On Monday morning I could see that there had been a huge jump in traffic on Sunday all of it to one plant page. The visits resulted from people using the search term ‘hemlock’ and brought them to the page for Conium maculatum, poison hemlock.

I assumed this meant someone had mentioned the plant on radio or TV and took to Twitter for help, help that Twitter promptly provided. I was directed to the BBC1 programme Countryfile where at 31 minutes in a forager tells Matt Baker that people must know what they are picking and cites hemlock water dropwort as an example of the hazards that lie in wait for the unwary. (Link will only work until 10th August.)

Hemlock water dropwort is Oenanthe crocata not Conium maculatum so all those people in search of more information about this plant to make their time in the country safer who searched for ‘hemlock’ and ended up on the Conium maculatum page did not get what they were after. Too late, I added a comment on the page to advise people that Oenanthe crocata was the plant they were looking for.

If the RHS and other people and organisations were not so elitist about the use of the unique names of plants then the man on Countryfile could have given the plant its correct name and my visitors would have found the information they were after.

For any of those people who find themselves here, this is Conium maculatum, poison hemlock;

Conium maculatum, poison hemlock

And this is Oenanthe crocata, hemlock water dropwort;

Oenanthe crocata, hemlock water dropwort

Submit a Comment

You can send comments via the contact page but please be sure to say what blog entry you are commenting on.

Follow @thepoisongarden on Twitter

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

August 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 2013April 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.