Welcome to THE POISON GARDEN website
...because every garden is a poison garden.
The purpose of THE POISON GARDEN website is to provide insights, many of them amusing, into the human race's long relationship with substances which have the potential to cause great harm.
Since the beginning of June 2011, I've been writing a daily blog
about poisonous plants, especially current news stories when a plant
You can access the blog here.
But, before going any further, it's important to understand that accidental plant poisoning is very unusual and only very rarely do people suffer serious harm. Death from accidental ingestion of a poisonous plant, in its natural state, is exceptionally unusual. Click here to go to a page where you will find some results from a study in Switzerland.
I'm John Robertson and The Poison Garden website originated
from my role as
the first Poison Garden Warden at the
I was involved with the Poison Garden for over four years and researched the stories told during Poison Garden tours as well as verifying, as far as possible, information provided by visitors. As a member of the Society for the Study of Addiction, I try to follow all the latest developments in our understanding of the issues surrounding substance abuse both legal and illegal.
Though the Poison Garden website comes about because of the knowledge about poison plants I developed in order to perform my role as Poison Garden Warden at the Alnwick Garden, neither John Robertson nor this site is now in any way connected with Alnwick Garden Enterprises Ltd and/or The Alnwick Garden Trust.
While I was Poison Garden Warden about 200,000 people a year took guided tours around the Alnwick Garden Poison Garden. Many expressed disappointment that the tour can only give a small part of the facts, fantasies and old wives' tales known about these poison plants. It was in order to try and address this disappointment that I developed a number of talks about poison plants. Initially, these talks were given in the Alnwick Garden but demand from many organisations led to the talks being given outside. This programme of talks continues to expand and you can read more about them on the 'Talks about The Poison Garden website' page.
But, even talks lasting about three quarters of an hour can only scratch the surface of the subject, so for the first time, The Poison Garden website gives access to many more of those stories together with pictures of the plants and stories which could not be told while I was still employed by the Alnwick Garden.
Down the right-hand side of this page, you'll find the opening paragraphs from the main pages of the site to help you to decide how you want to proceed.
A bee feeds on monkshood
The 'A to Z of Poison Plants' page leads to the section giving information on over 90 different poison plants, what they do, what used to be believed about them and what is still thought of them today. This section is not intended to be an exhaustive guide to all poisonous plants and contains much information which is anecdotal. For a reference book on plants, in the UK, which might pose hazards to children, I recommend 'Poisonous Plants: a guide for parents and childcare providers'.
It cannot be said too often that poison plants cause far less harm than might be expected. In 'Accidental poisoning deaths in British children 1958-77' published by the British Medical Journal, Neil C Fraser reports on a total of 598 poisoning deaths of children under 10 years of age. In the period covered only three deaths were attributed to plants. Even this low number is overstated since one death was due to fungi and in one of the other two 'the role of ingestion in the child's demise is doubtful'. Thus there may have been only one confirmed plant death, with 'hemlock' being the plant responsible, in twenty years. Fraser's analysis makes it clear that medication, household cleaning materials and cosmetics pose a much higher risk than poison plants.
Many of the old stories about the plants seem to us to be pretty
silly. How foolish our ancestors were for believing that planting a
particular plant near the house would guard against evil spirits.
How foolish our descendants will think we are for believing that the secret of a good night out is to snort a line or coke or drink huge amounts of alcohol.
The number of cases of accidental plant poisoning is so small that very few countries trouble to keep any sort of detail track of incidents. In 1996, however, a paper appeared giving detailed information for Switzerland. Though it would be wrong to suggest that the results are entirely typical of the whole world, they do give an idea of how small the problem of accidental plant poisoning really is. More detail from the Swiss paper is available here.
But, this is plants in their natural state. It is when products are made from them that the trouble starts. Deliberate consumption of intoxicants like heroin, alcohol or tobacco cause many millions of deaths every year but people know the risks they take in consuming such substances.
Of greater concern are the 'natural' remedies which people take not knowing that they contain deadly poison. Plants in the Aristolochia genus, probably, cause more deaths than any other plant outside of those I call the Phantastica.