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.

Wednesday 23rd July 2014

I really don’t understand why the reaction to any poisonous plant is an absence of logic rapidly followed by a tendency to hysteria. Regular readers will assume I’m about to write about Jacobaea vulgaris (syn. Senecio jacobaea), common ragwort, and the latest ragwort survey from the British Horse Association (BHS) and I am, later. But what leads me to that opening is a story about another plant all together. A plant that, until today, I hadn’t even considered; that’s how little trouble it causes.

My Google alert drew me to a local paper story but, when that mentioned another story in a national I went looking for that. It appears to have started with a report in the Daily Express though, purely by coincidence I’m sure, the Mail had a very similar story the following day.

The Express headline is;

‘Look but don't touch! Pretty flower so poisonous that it could KILL returns to the UK’

The Mail ratchets things up with

‘The flower that can kill: Deadly British plant thought to be extinct discovered by a lighthouse’

Agrostemma githago, corn cockle

Agrostemma githago, corn cockle
Picture taken by BerndH
12 June 2005 {{cc-by-sa-2.5}}

According to the Express, Agrostemma githago, corn cockle (or corncockle), is;
‘…filled with a poison that could cause severe stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhoea, dizziness, weakness, slow breathing and even death.’

It reports;

‘Guy Barter Chief Advisor at the Royal Horticultural Society, said the plant is barely seen in the UK but is also very dangerous.’

But then gives an actual quote from Mr Barter;

"They are poisonous and harmful - but as long as you wash your hands thoroughly you should be okay.”

I didn’t think the RHS would describe it as ‘very dangerous’ given that it published Liz Dauncey’s book based on the Horticultural Trades Association list of potentially hazardous plants which lists it as class C (the least harmful class) with the possibility of causing ‘mild poisoning’.

The excellent ‘Plants for a Future’ website says ‘The seed and leaves are poisonous, containing saponin-like substances. Although poisonous, saponins are poorly absorbed by the human body and so most pass through without harm.’

So, a mildly poisonous plant that has nothing to encourage human consumption and could cause slight harm if someone ate a reasonable quantity.

But, as I pointed out there is never a logical response to a poisonous plant story. And, of course, any story claiming that a plant is very rare will always produce other stories of someone having it growing in the garden. And so it was that my Google alert took me to the Spalding Guardian with its ‘Is this poisonous plant in your garden too?’ story about a woman in Long Sutton who saw the story and realised she had them in a patch of wildflowers growing from a pack of mixed seed.

Her conclusion is that ‘I must get rid of it’. The picture used to illustrate the story suggests that, just like every other garden in the land, she has other plants that are similar in their toxicity to the corn cockle.

I’d finished drafting this piece and took a break to check Twitter before proceeding. That’s how I came across a tweet from Justin Brower with a link to a newer story from the Express that ups the ante of stupidity.

Headlined ‘BBC's Countryfile sent gardener toxic flowers’ it’s about someone who bought a packet of wildflower seeds from a joint Countryfile/Kew Gardens promotion and is now demanding John Craven or Matt Baker comes round to remove them. (OK, he’s saying Countryfile or Kew should remove them not naming the show’s best-known presenters but it’s almost that silly.)

There’s a little bit of shooting itself in the foot from the Express because after stating that the plant is very rare in the first story its latest story says that 230,000 packets of the seeds were distributed.

UK newspapers like nothing better than the opportunity to attack the BBC so I expect this one to run and run, as they say.

Jacobaea vulgaris (syn. Senecio jacobaea), common ragwort

Jacobaea vulgaris, common ragwort

I said I would get to common ragwort and, of course, talking about an irrational response to a limited threat is the perfect lead in to the latest round of ragwort hysteria. The BHS has launched yet another survey of ragwort. It says that this survey, which has input from Defra, is intended to ‘discover the real facts about ragwort and gather data from across England on perceptions and reality’.

What is doesn’t do is offer any comment on why this is necessary given all the previous surveys it has conducted to ‘discover the real facts’.

The new ragwort survey is an improvement in that it does offer the opportunity for people to say that ragwort has not caused them any concerns but it still suffers from a fatal flaw. It is a survey that anyone can complete meaning that it is unlikely to be completed by people who are not campaigning for tougher action. The only way to truly establish what the effect of ragwort is would be to conduct a properly representative survey not by urging people who think ragwort is a problem to complete a survey saying ragwort is a problem.

Just to repeat three things the BHS won’t tell you.

There is no evidence of widespread poisoning of horses as a result of ingesting ragwort and what incidents there are can always be traced back to contaminated forage or neglect.

Ill-informed efforts to remove ragwort can increase its availability and acceptability to horses and cattle so, promoting hysteria about the plant, probably, increases the harm it causes.

Though few in number (about 2-3 per year), there are incidents of cattle poisoning as a result of being fed contaminated forage. The excessive focus on the alleged harm to horses from ragwort may result in some farmers thinking that it is not a problem for cattle.

I’m assuming that Defra’s involvement will at least mean that the full survey results will be available to the public even if it takes a Freedom of Information Act request to get them. In previous years, the BHS has said very little about the results of its surveys. Would it be wrong to assume that if the surveys found widespread evidence of harm the BHS would have been more forthcoming?

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

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 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


IMPORTANT NOTE

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