“Every rose has its thorns”. We all love the sight of a beautiful garden, but sometimes the loveliest appearances hide a deadly nature.
Jane Percy, the Duchess of Northumberland, decided in 1995 that she wanted to grow a garden exclusively containing harmful plants. She originally thought of a medicinal garden, but she changed her mind after seeing the Medici poison garden in Italy. The Duchess wanted her garden to be something different, something that would interest children beyond just what the plants looked like. Something about the macabre piques our curiosity. For some, it’s more fascinating to find out how something can kill you than how it can save your life.
The Duchess’s Poison Garden at Alnwick Garden is educational as well as entertaining. The plants it contains include those used to make drugs, aphrodisiacs, and a few surprisingly common species that release toxic fumes.
The garden is a definite tourist attraction, but it isn’t kidding around when it warns visitors not to smell, touch, or taste any of the plants. Just inhaling the plants’ perfume for too long has caused many visitors to faint.
With that being said, let’s have a look at some deadly plants!
These gorgeous flowers are quite common in gardens, and look altogether unassuming. But every part of these plants – leaves, stem, petals and all – are so toxic to humans that you don’t even have to ingest it in order to feel its toxic effects, which can even end in death. Oleander affects the function of the heart, which leads to pain and symptoms in the rest of the body, essentially shutting down your body bit by bit.
Mangrove trees have many beneficial uses. They’re used in medicines and dyes, and are greatly important to the environment. In coastal areas, they protect against natural disasters like cyclones. But the waxy leaf of the milky mangrove is incredibly toxic. Smoke from burning the leaves can cause temporary blindness, earning it the nickname “blind your eye” mangrove.
Australia is home to many types of nettle and other stinging plants, but the Gympie Gympie stinging tree takes the cake. When touched, the plant’s tiny hairs inject a venom into the skin, causing stings like a wasp attack, then swelling, which can sometimes last for months.
The foxglove is my favourite beautiful-but-deadly flower; they play a part in Welsh mythology as hiding places for the fair folk, and its name in Old English likely translates to “fairy bells”. But although this dazzling, pink-speckled flower is used in many modern medicines, it’s also highly poisonous. Extreme dosages can cause strange side effects like confused vision and a heightened sense of the colours green and yellow. Enough foxglove can even cause death.
Rounding out this list is hemlock, which is one of the most deadly plants outright. Its toxicity was used way back in Ancient Greece to kill convicted prisoners, including the philosopher Socrates. The poison is so potent that people have died from eating animals that have ingested the plant.