Monday, August 17, 2009

Poisonous Plant Gardens

On I created a list of chocolate scented plants for the garden. Today, on Mystery Fanfare I thought I'd do a list for the poison garden. We all know the garden can be a place for all kinds of poisons, from weed killers to weapons to plants. One of the non-growing poisonous elements of a poison garden would be cocoa bean hulls, often used for mulch. Although the cocoa bean hulls smell terrific, they're not good for dogs. I've always used cocoa bean hulls mulch in my own garden, and I've been lucky with all my dogs so far. None seem to be interested in the mulch, probably because it smells too good and not like skunk. The theobromine in the hulls can lead to vomiting in dogs.

Amy Stewart, the author of Wicked Plants: The Weed That Killed Lincoln's Mother & Other Botanical Atrocities (Algonquin), has written a wonderful book that's right up my alley, literally. I've written about poisonous plants in the Mystery Readers Journal, but Stewart takes it several steps further. Be sure to add this to your garden book collection.

Anyone who reads Agatha Christie, the Poison Queen, is aware that Foxglove is poisonous, and of course, castor beans. What else grows in the garden? Hemlock, yes, lilies, yes, monkshood, yes. Besides poisonous plants there are those that cause hallucinations and cardiac arrest. Aconite, datura, and let's not forget oleander. Don't put your marshmallow on an oleander branch. Every part of the oleander is poisonous. Drying the plant doesn't help, not to mention that the crushed seeds of the oleander are used to commit suicide in India.

Look around your garden and see if you have any of these--or design your own poison garden, if you're so inclined.

Foxglove: Digitalis: Throw a few leaves in a salad, eat and die. Agatha Christie used this in one of her novels.
Yew: Taxus bacata. The berries are lethal.
Cherry Laurel: These looks like regular cherries but are quite lethal. Interesting to note that the edible cherry and the laurels all share the same family name (Prunus). FYI: The Portuguese Laurel (Prunus lusitanica) has cyanide compounds in its leaf. Don't burn it!

And, a few others:
Aconitum: Monkshood, Wolfsbane, Leopard's bane
Arum: Cuckoo pint.
Colchicum- The autumn crocus - Can be fatal if eaten
Convallaria: Lily of the Valley
Christmas Rose
Cytisus: Broom - All parts can be fatal if eaten.
Daphne: Shrub grown for its beautifully scented flowers-Can be Fatal
Delphinium: All parts Highly toxic - can be fatal if eaten
Gloriosa superba: The beautiful Gloriosa Lily!
Laburnum: Beautiful golden rain flowers; Can be Fatal if eaten
Lantana: Now very popular in the summer border or planted tub!
Nerium: A beautiful conservatory plant
Phytolacca: The poke weed
Ricinus communis: Castor Oil Plant. Not to be confused with Fatsia.
Taxus: A hedge favorite.
Veratrum: The false Hellebore.
Bleeding Heart
Capsicum species: Red Pepper, Cayenne Pepper
Chrysanthemum: Daisy, Feverfew, marguerite
Deadly Nightshade: Hemlock
Jimson Weed
Lathryus (Sweet Pea)
Lily of the Valley. Be sure and wash up after touching it.
Rhubarb (leaves)
Water Hemlock
Laurels, Rhodendrons and Azaleas

Of course, many different mushrooms

And a few others: Wild clematis (old man's beard) was once used by professional beggars who rubbed is sap into scratches to make temporary weeping ulcers.
Laburnum causes convulsions, vomiting and foaming at the mouth
Strychine (Quaker's Button).. well we all know about this one.
Daphne (berries, bark and sap are potent)
Phytolacca (pokeweed)
Ricinis communis (Castor Oil Plant)
Veratrum (False Hellibores)

Poison Ivy and Poison Oak, but you knew about those.

So have a look around the garden and see how many poisonous plants you have. There's a proverb that says, "A Book is Like a Garden carried in your Pocket". If it's a mystery, it must be a poisonous garden.

Where to visit a poison garden:
Alnwick Castle in the UK has a poison garden, definitely worth visiting, but don't touch the plants.
The Muenscher Poisonous Plants Garden (Cornell) in Ithaca.
The Brooklyn Botanical Gardens has a poisonous garden exhibit.

Last week in the UK, a 66 year old gardener found Devil's Snare (Thorn-apple) in his garden. This mystery plant is used by Amazonian tribes to poison their darts. These plants turn up occasionally in waste and cultivated ground, having been brought to the U.K. in bird seed.


Suzanne Arruda said...

I've used oleander in my third mystery (The Serpent's Daughter) set in 1920 Morocco. In historicals there is the advantage of antique or non-existent forensics. No Mass Spec analysis. I've also been researching some of the drugs used in parts of Africa for subsequent books. Always interesting.
Suzanne Arruda

Janet Rudolph said...

Cool! Hope you'll keep us updated on your poisonous findings!

thepoisongarden said...

'Yew: Taxus bacata. The berries are lethal.'

That's not so. The flesh of the berries is perfectly safe. I met someone who ate hundreds every season. Inside the seed is toxic but if you don't chew into the seed or if you spit it out whole you'll be fine. The seed casing is hard and doesn't get digested for a normal person.

There are reports of people being poisoned by eating as few as three berries but they chwed into the seeds and released the toxins.

And the rest of the plant is highly toxic. You're not likely to munch on the foliage but cattle may and even dead foliage is still toxic.

Janet Rudolph said...

I would still keep it on the list. There's always a chance someone would chomp down on a berry--and especially, since the rest of the plant is toxic. Thanks for the clarification, though.

MurderMysteryMayhem said...

Wicked Plants: The Weed That Killed Lincoln's Mother & Other Botanical Atrocities - This is such a delightful little book. I read it from cover to cover in one night. Favorite killer Monkshood...

love your blog...

Janet Rudolph said...

Glad you like the blog. I like a variety of subjects on mystery.

Yes, monkshood, a wicked poison!