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What's your poison? Garden plants with a punch

What's the worst thing in the garden? Would you immediately think 'poison'? Many garden-lovers would say prickles and thorns (think Berberis) because gardening amongst these things can be a pain literally. But of course these thorny beasts are brilliant for keeping animals (and burglars) away from certain areas.

Use Berberis for creating a boundary - it keeps unwanted visitors at bay! Some might say weeds, particularly invasive varieties such as Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica). This tough little cookie is a bit like bamboo it spreads rapidly  and it's a giant which can easily reach 2.1m tall. It can push its way through cracks in concrete and crowds out all the natives with ease. Then there's  Ragwort which can be fatal to horses and other animals if it's cut and baled in hay.  And how about other poisonous but attractive plants such as Aconitum or Monkshood which is said to have killed a young but experienced gardener only last year?

Japanese Knotweed can appear in paths and even make its way into houses.

Japanese Knotweed spreads alarmingly during the growing season                              

Aconitum, or Mondshood, is highly poisonous and has been known to kill. Once you start thinking about the more worrying side of gardening you can easily become paranoid.  What's lurking in the bushes? Will it attack? What happens if you leave it alone - will it take over your world?<

Is there danger lurking in your borders?   Let's put things into perspective for a moment. We live here in the UK. Yes, caution is always necessary when working amongst unfamiliar things. But just imagine for a moment that we lived in a rainforest. Unlikely, yes, but it's good to think. There you might be stung by the cute-sounding gympie-gympie plant. Dendrocnide moroides is a member of the nettle family, so you might expect its sting to be a bit tingly. But no, this one contains a powerful poison - a neurotoxin that causes major pain. It is known to have killed horses, dogs and driven humans insane with the agony. The active compound, moroidin, is said to still be agonising even a year after stinging, if any of the tiny hairs are not removed from the skin. It is said that horses have thrown themselves over ravines to escape their suffering. And one poor chap who foolishly used the plant as toilet paper is said to have shot himself to stop the pain.  

Warning: do not use this poisonous plant as toilet paper! Then there's the notorious Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) that hails from North American and Asia.  It contains an oil called urushiol and it delivers a rash which is itchy and blistering.

It looks harmless, but poison ivy can deliver a bit of a punch   And how about the beautiful desert rose (Adenium obesum). It sounds harmless enough, but this is a plant you will wish you hadn't meddled with. In its native homeland of Africa and Arabia its sap is traditionally used on poison arrow tips. An animal pierced by a coated arrow head is expected to die very quickly.

The beautiful desert rose. Who would think that its beauty is hiding such a poison? Returning to the UK, even the Foxglove is poisonous if you are foolish enough to eat it. Just like Aconitum it can cause heart failure. But of course the plant has a valuable  medical use too.

The same applies to yew (Taxus baccata) which is used as a basis for an important cancer drug.  Then there's cuckoo pint (Arum maculatum) or lords and ladies which has poisonous berries; deadly nightshade; hemlock; horse chestnut and Daphne. The list of scary things in the bushes is as long as it is fascinating. Hemp for example... it's Latin  name is Cannabis sativa and also Cannabis indica. It was used medicinally long before it was abused as a drug. What's more, its fibre makes a brilliant fabric and its oil and seed are highly nutritious.  

Hemp is better known as Canabis What does all this tell us? That plants have super powers. If used wisely they have healing abilities that surpass those of any artificial medicines. Poisonous or perfectly harmless, they are packed with things that we don't necessarily understand. Enjoy plants for their shape, colour and form, by all means, But beauty goes further than that... there is more to plants that meets the eye.  

Beautiful shapes, forms, colour. Plants can do you a power of good. Never under-estimate the power that is growing in your garden. Basically, the advice from the RHS (Royal Horticultural Society) is this: If it's not a food plant, don't eat it. The advice from Perfect Plants is this: Enjoy your garden this summer. Respect the things that are growing. Be wise and everything will be wonderful.            

By Perfect Plants


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