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Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

Tuesday 26th August 2014

I have bad news and good news and bad news. I’m being flippant in the hope that I can prevent the bubbling cauldron of anger inside me boiling over onto the page.

The first bad news; the corncockle story is not dead. On 25th August, the Swindon Advertiser published a story on its website  ‘Poisonous flower discovered in park’. It told the story of a man in Royal Wootton Bassett who spotted Agrostemma githago growing in a public park and reported it to the council.

Though it would have been the sensible thing to do, the fact that I’m writing this means I probably don’t need to tell you that the council didn’t respond by saying ‘Don’t be so silly. There’s no record of anyone actually being harmed by it and there’s lots of more toxic things in the park’. Of course they wouldn’t say that. Instead, the council fenced off the area before cutting the plants down.

So, there it is another story talking complete nonsense about a plant that will be there for anyone to find if they see the same plant in the future.

But, then comes the surprising good news. In a break from the normal tradition of comments added to online articles, seven of the nine comments added at the time of writing point out what nonsense the piece above is. (Yes, the other two are someone finding a way to boast about his genitalia and a replier finding a way to mock that but this is the Internet.)

After I Tweeted about the news item and how pleased I was by the comments someone delivered the second piece of bad news by Tweeting a link to this story in the Telegraph. The only thing you really need to know about that story is that the writer isn’t concerned about any potential for harm and may not even believe the plant is seriously toxic (since it isn’t that would be a sign of wisdom). What the story is about is the Telegraph grabbing the chance to attack the BBC.

The headline ‘Project promoted by BBC spreads poisonous wild flowers across Britain’ tells you all you need to know about the motivation for the article.

But, again, it will sit there on the Telegraph’s servers and turn up whenever someone searches for ‘corncockle’ and ‘poison’. I wonder if plants can claim the right to be forgotten.

And there is where I meant to end this but the second piece of bad news was followed by another piece of good news. I try not to go back to the beginning so I haven't added this second 'good news' to the opening paragraph.

I was contacted by Patrick Barkham who writes about natural history for the Guardian. He’d seen the stories and knew they were nonsense and was writing an article for the Guardian’s website. Here it is - ‘The corncockle kerfuffle, or why Countryfile isn’t trying to kill you’.

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