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Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

Thursday 1st August 2013

1st August is a bit early to be thinking about autumn but, though there is really no direct correlation between the two, the formation of berries always seems to be a sign of autumn.

While not yet ripe, both my Atropa belladonna, deadly nightshade, and Solanum dulcamara, woody nightshade, have green berries starting to appear as these two pictures show.

Atropa belladonna, deadly nightshade 


Solanum dulcamara, woody nightshade

What started me thinking about berries was an identification request posted on the gardening forum I visit. Someone’s neighbour had suggested that a plant growing a hedge was deadly nightshade. But the distinctive blue and yellow flowers left no doubt that it was woody not deadly.

Solanum dulcamara, woody nightshade 

A discussion of the poisonous qualities of Solanum dulcamara began with the usual call for the plant to be removed immediately because a few berries could kill. I pointed out that the berries are so bitter that harm is very unusual because children, in particular, don’t like bitter tastes.

That led someone to say that, many years ago, their 18-month old had eaten a berry and spent 24 hours under observation in hospital waiting for his raised heart rate to subside. On the plant page, I detail a number of incidents involving children but they are very few in total.

Further exchanges established that the plant was growing in a hedge amongst Rubus fructicosus, blackberry, plants that the parents had been grazing on. The toddler may have taken its lead from this and just been unfortunate to choose the red berry of the woody nightshade rather than the blackberries. My guess would be that the youngster may not have liked the taste but suppressed this because his parents did not show any distaste.

It is important to remember that children are great imitators. Finding edible berries growing wild in the country or unplanted in the garden is always a pleasure and they do seem to be tastier than anything you buy in a plastic punnet from the supermarket. But, if you are going to graze on them, as found, make sure there’s nothing less palatable mixed in and make sure that any children present get a lesson about the potential for harm if they don’t know what they are doing.


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