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Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

Saturday 25th May 2013

You will be familiar with the description of a fidget as someone having ants in their pants. This morning I found that I’d got ants in my plants. (To make that work you either need a very posh accent so that you say ‘ants’ like ‘aunts’ or else you need to be from the southern states of the USA.)

As it has in the previous couple of years, my Mandragora officinarum, mandrake, had come up early, flowered, failed to set fruit and started to die off. This morning I was surprised to see that there was soil on the floor all around the pot and that the remaining leaves were also covered in earth.

A closer look showed the soil in the pot to be full of holes and also meant I could see a lot of ants walking about. My first instinct was to get the camera but I overcame that and moved the whole pot outside before getting this picture.

Mandragora officinarum, mandrake 

I turned the pot out and took a few stills of the nest and the ants scurrying around but realised they wouldn’t stand out very well on a webpage so I shot some video and you can see just how many of them there were.

I removed the root and moved the nest onto the border.

I last looked at the root in 2010 and noted than that the supposed forked structure that leads to so much of the folklore of this plant wasn’t there. Here’s a picture I took then.

Mandragora officinarum, mandrake 

In the past nearly three years, the root has fattened quite a lot but there is still no sign of the human form.

Mandragora officinarum, mandrake 

I hope I don’t need to add that there was no scream as I extracted the root from the soil.

I took the 2010 picture when I dug the plant up from the garden where it hadn’t done very well and moved it indoors in a pot. In each of the three growing seasons since, it has produced quite a lot of leaves and some flowers but has never fruited. This picture from last year shows about the best it did over the three seasons.

Mandragora officinarum, mandrake 

I’ve decided that I’ve experimented enough with growing it indoors so I replanted the root in a bed outside. We’ll have to wait until next February to see if it will do any better.

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