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Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

October 2012

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Wednesday 24th October 2012

‘The poison is in the dose’ is a central theme of much of what I write and say about poisons. Poor media coverage of both poisons and psychoactive substances is another. When the two came together, recently, it set me thinking about a potential side effect of an end to drug prohibition.

The substance of interest is one that most people do not think of as a concern, much less as a potentially lethal poison; caffeine. Billions of people consume caffeine every day and only a very few of them ever consider that this is an addictive substance with a well-defined fatal dose...more

Monday 22nd October 2012

Sometimes, when I’m giving one of my talks, the subject of poisons in fiction will come up. It may be a question or it could be someone quoting an example of how one of the plants I’ve been speaking about has been used by an author.

I usually try and move on quite quickly because, for the most part, the way poisons are dealt with in fiction leaves a great deal to be desired. Though I haven’t researched the topic so can’t pretend to offer an exhaustive list, I’ve only come across three writers who deal with poisons reasonably truthfully. I wrote about those three - Shakespeare, Agatha Christie and Val McDermid – last August...more

Saturday 20th October 2012

I’ve been watching the latest incarnation of BBC TV’s ‘Something Farm’ franchise. We’ve had ‘Victorian Farm’ and ‘Edwardian Farm’ and the current series is ‘Wartime Farm’. There have been some changes in format for this in that, instead of the three presenters going through a single year for the time concerned, each programme looks at one year in the sequence 1939-1945 to see how the progress of World War II affected the demands made on farmers.

Another change is that the net is being cast a little further to bring in issues related to food during wartime that are not directly relevant to a small English farm. The latest edition looked at the situation for civilians in Germany from 1944 once Germany began to lose the war and supplies became difficult to obtain...more

Tuesday 16th October 2012

The usefulness of Google Alerts is, of course, related to the search term used. I have a friend who is involved in the supply of frames combined with glazing for insertion in the external walls of buildings. I wrote it that way to show that whilst ‘windows’ is, plainly, not a useful term for a Google Alert finding an alternative that will produce helpful results is not that easy.

In my sphere of interest, the alert that produces the least relevant results is for ‘laburnum’. Almost every result, and there are several each day, is about a property for sale on Laburnum something. I find it curious that a plant causing a hysterical reaction from many people who misunderstand the difference between poisonous and harmful should be seen by so many as the ideal name for a residential area...more

Monday 8th October 2012

Some years ago, during a residential training course, I picked up a book about wild flower identification. In the introduction, the author said he had decided to write the plant equivalent of the books that tell you how to identify birds. He then said that plant identification was much harder than birds because there were only 50 or so species of bird to learn whereas there are hundreds of wild plants.

The flaw in that argument was immediately apparent; wild plants don’t fly off into the nearest tree as soon as you get close enough for a good look and birds don’t allow you to pull bits off to take home and compare with the pictures in your books or online...more

5th October 2012

Sometimes, the absent is as interesting as the present. I’ve written a number of times, this summer, about the proliferation of Heracleum mantegazzianum, giant hogweed, in Edinburgh and the mostly hysterical reactions to Jacobaea vulgaris (syn. Senecio jacobaea), common ragwort. So many times, in fact, that I’ll leave you to go to the plant pages and follow the links back to the blog rather than list them all, again.

It struck me a couple of days ago, however, that there is one plant I would have expected to write about in the summer but have not...more

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