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Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

Thursday 13th February 2014

For my latest video in the ‘Poisonous Plants 1-2-1’ series, I’ve stepped a little out of the intended format. The idea of the series was to provide a brief summary of what is known about a plant in the hope of creating interest leading to further investigation.

With Heracleum mantegazzianum, giant hogweed, I’ve stepped away from what is known and put forward my speculations about why this plant is such an unpleasant presence. And, though I hope my musings might be of interest, I have little hope that any further investigation is possible.

The question for me is why did those Victorian plant hunters bring such a nasty piece of work to the UK? Did they ignore its potential for harm just because they wanted to profit from making it a fashionable addition to a large garden? Or, were they unaware of the harm it could cause because, in its native environment, it isn’t nearly as harmful.

I don’t know about the Victorians but, as the Rhus radicans, poison ivy, page of this site says, in the 17th century Richard Stafford sent some of the plant to the UK with clear warnings about its effects. Plant hunters seem to have been more curious than profit-motivated, though that may be how they have been romanticised.

I find it hard to believe that giant hogweed would have come to the UK without any warnings if its bad behaviour were well-known in the countries of its origin. In parts of Iran, it is reported that the seeds are used as a spice, not something that you would think likely if collection of those seeds caused serious burns. This article about golpar, the name given to the plant in Iran, even talks about using young stalks and leaves but makes no mention of care being needed during harvesting.

My library doesn’t run to Victorian gardening books or magazines. I’d love to read what was originally written about the plant to encourage gardeners to buy it from the importers. It would be interesting to see if it came with any warnings.

Absent that, all I can do is speculate.

Here’s the video.

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