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.

Monday 24th September 2012

On Sunday, the weather forecast for today said that the very heavy rain and high winds would move up from the south to give us a pretty unpleasant day. So, it seemed like a good idea to get out in the garden and do some tidying up as well as making sure that high winds would not lead to things, like plastic flower pots, flying around.

I had a walk around, in the character of the head gardener of a big estate. That is to say, I was walking around looking favourably on some things and very unfavourably on others. The only problem is I get to play all the other characters as well; the assistant head gardener, the gardener, the under-gardener and all the way down to the unpaid trainee who gets to do most of the unpleasant jobs for no reward.

During this tour, I spotted a mushroom and thought it might be instructive to see if I could positively identify it. I immediately found a key problem with mushroom identification. All the photos published are of perfect specimens whereas mine was a long way short of perfect.

Unidentified mushroom 

I started with my mushroom book. This is the book that spends 160 pages describing and picturing mushrooms before concluding that the only truly reliable way to identify mushrooms is to go foraging with someone who knows what they look like. I wasn’t expecting to get very far and, sure enough, none of the images looked anything like my mushroom.

Then I remembered my interactive CD from Kew Gardens and Guys and St Thomas’ Hospital. Because it doesn’t work with Windows 7 I had to root out an old laptop with Windows XP persuade it to come to life after being neglected for so long.

The CD works by asking structured questions about the appearance of the fungus you want to identify. Things like colour, shape and texture of the cap (see above). What the underside of the cap looks like and, after stating that it has gills, what colour and type of gills it has.

Unidentified mushroom 

Moving down, the next block of questions are about the stem; size shape, appearance and presence/absence of any type of collar.

Unidentified mushroom 

Then there are questions that require the mushroom to be sliced through; colour/appearance on the inside, does it exude any juice, does its appearance change when exposed to air?

Unidentified mushroom 

Then, finally, some questions about the gills and their attachment to the stem.

Unidentified mushroom 

Once the program has reduced the possibles to five or fewer it asks if you want to look at the contenders. My mushroom was said to be from one of four genera; Russula, Entoloma, Boletus or Tricholoma. The images of these fungi on the CD didn’t help so I tried various online searches to see if I could narrow the field.

Maybe it's just me but I found I was tempted to go for the nearest match even if there was something fundamentally different. 'It looks just like X except that the cap is the wrong colour'. Or, 'I'd say it was Y but the stem hasn't changed colour after being cut'.

But, just to take one of the genera, Boletus, various species are described as ‘edible’, ‘inedible’ or ‘poisonous’ so, clearly, that could be a fairly rash judgement to make. I would need to narrow my identification from one of four genera to a particular species of one of them before I could be sure of what I had found.

But my searches didn’t not provide a better answer so I was left wondering both precisely what it was I had found in the garden and, if identification is really this difficult, how is it that there are so few cases of mushroom poisoning? 

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


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.