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For Writers

KN, p. 259 “Poison Gardens, Here and Abroad”

 

Pokeweed

 

Our Carolina cousins have an enthusiastic love of gardening, so hauling dirt and digging holes for their plants is part of our semi-annual visits. As an extra bonus, Sheila enjoys learning about the Southern flower and tree varieties that our chilly Northern weather prevents us from growing.

 

This last visit was busier than usual after I noticed quite a few poisonous plants that cuz had added to the garden areas. I mentioned my discoveries about foxglove and a few other attractive specimens and we came up with a landscaping design that would feature their own choices in a special section, nestled up against the deadly oleander. We got busy and transplanted the varieties, gloved up and wearing long sleeves and pants while doing the work.

 

Here’s a list of the ones we placed in the poison grouping, along with the effects of the plants on humans when not handled properly. There is a mixture of sun and shade during the day in this area, so many of these plants are shade loving or at least shade tolerant under all the pines and in the intense summer heat.

 

Azalea – all parts of the bush are toxic and can cause progressive paralysis

Bleeding Heart – leaves and roots toxic in large quantities

Chrysanthemums – leaves and flowers can cause blisters, diarrhea, nausea, lack of coordination

Foxglove – all parts toxic, but berries especially poisonous and can kill

Geraniums – handling the plants can cause irritation

Holly trees – eating the berries can cause death in children

Hydrangea – leaves and flowers can cause convulsions and coma if ingested

Iris – underground stems cause severe digestive upset

Lantana – unripened berries can cause difficulty breathing or death if ingested

Lily of the Valley – can cause death in children if any part is eaten

Oleander – all parts are toxic and can kill

Peonies – eating flowers and seeds can cause tremors, severe diarrhea, and vomiting

Pokeweed – all parts of the plant are toxic, and it gets deadlier as it gets bigger and older

 

Hydrangea

 

Why have all these poisonous plants? With the variety of colors, leaf textures, and overlapping blooming schedules, that area of the yard is a constant source of enjoyment for people and the bees. The cousins don’t have pets or young children, so there are no safety concerns, other than always wearing gloves (and sometimes long sleeves) when caring for the garden.

Some toxicity information is from www.thespruce.com

 

One of the most famous poison gardens in the world can be found in the Alnwick Castle Gardens in Northumberland, England. In the late 1990s, the Duchess was tasked with improving the neglected landscaping. Rather than repeating the layout found in other famous gardens, she created a poison garden, where every one of the 100 toxic plants has the ability to kill you. The reason for her decision? She thought it would be much more interesting on the tours to chat about what was deadly, rather than what was merely pretty.

 

Finished in 2005, many are considered cottage garden plants, since they are found in ordinary gardens around the country. Most people just are not aware of how deadly the plants can be, but the workers wear gloves and sometimes full Tyvek suits while working with the specimens. Below is a partial list of the lethal flowers and shrubs in the Alnwick Poison Garden.

 

Alnwick Poison Garden

 

  • Aconitum
  • Brugmansia (a type of trumpet vine)
  • Castor Bean plant
  • Foxglove
  • Belladonna – deadly nightshade
  • Hellebores
  • Hemlock
  • Laburnum
  • Laurel hedge (leaves in a jar kill insects dropped in, but leave them otherwise undamaged)
  • Lily of the Valley
  • Oleander
  • Poppies
  • Pokeweed
  • Rhododendron
  • Vinca major

 

Foxglove

 

One representative is a plant that both helps and kills. Castor Oil is made from the plant (Castor Bean Plant) Ricinus communis, but a single seed from the same plant will kill an adult in the most horrible way. Ricin causes nausea, severe vomiting, convulsions and subsequent disintegration of the kidneys, liver and spleen.

                 

The Blarney Castle Poison Garden, in County Cork, Ireland, has been nestled against the battlements since the 1400s. Laid out beautifully, it is updated periodically and the head gardener is planning an expansion with a display of carnivorous plants. Open to the public, there are warnings everywhere not to touch the plants.

 

The Medici Poison Garden, in Padua, Italy, is part of the oldest botanical garden in a university setting in the world. It dates from 1545 and was established because the Medici family developed poisons from plants so that they could dispatch their enemies. These days, the site has a more medicinal/research theme.

 

Poison or medicine? Sometimes, the difference is in the dosage.

 

But, no matter what, be careful in your garden. There are many more plants that could be dangerous to your health. Ask questions at the garden center if you have pets or small children at your house, but still want to have a great garden.

 

*Flower photos taken in North Carolina by Patti Phillips

*Poison Garden entrance – the Alnwick garden website

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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KN, p. 258 “Foxglove: Pretty, Medicinal, and Deadly”

 

In general, an investigation into a suspicious death must show that the suspect had motive, means, and opportunity in order for a D.A. to pursue and prosecute a case.

 

A traditional mystery (not much blood and gore, with an emphasis on the howdunit, whodunit, and why) might focus on the little old lady who seems that she would never harm a soul. In fact, she may be the dastardly evildoer in a cleverly plotted story.

 

A detective must discover why the victim needed killing – the motive. Was the crime committed to cover up another crime? Was the mild-mannered little old lady, barely making ends meet through a glitch in her pension system, cashing social security checks that belonged to a long dead spouse now buried in the garden? Did the victim uncover the truth and need to be silenced before spilling the beans? Readers and jury members alike might relate to her desperate plight as a motive that pushes people over the edge.   

 

The detective must show that the suspect had the means to pull it off.

What would a little old lady do? The victim had no outward signs of blunt force trauma from being struck by a baseball bat or golf club. The answer lies in the multi-colored display of foxglove, readily available in our senior citizen’s garden. Every part of the foxglove plant can cause allergic reactions and a few fresh leaves are enough to kill a person. Collecting the foliage can irritate the skin and eyes, so wearing gardening gloves, eyeglasses, and a mask (commonly worn in pollen season) would have protected her when working with her weapon of death.

A detective must figure out if the suspect had an opportunity to deliver the poison to the victim. The foxglove leaves look very much like large baby romaine, if a bit fuzzier. But lathered in salad dressing at a neighborly gathering, nobody would be able to tell the difference.

 

Or, the senior citizen could bake up a special plate of brownies and share them.

 

From J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter to Agatha Christie, foxglove has been a popular way to ‘off’ annoying people in fiction. Snape uses foxglove to make a potion in Potions 101 and Christie mixed it with other, edible greens in the garden in “The Herb of Death.”

 

My wife, Sheila, picked up six plants in three different colors at the garden center. I warned her about washing her gloves after handling the plants. All protocols were followed and no brownies have been made recently at our house.

 

So, why do we allow foxglove to be grown if it can be deadly?

 

The botanical name for foxglove is Digitalis purpurea. “Digitalis” is heart medicine made from foxglove. With a controlled dosage, digitalis is valuable in treating heart failure, but the wrong amount of foxglove can cause irregular heart function and death. Long-term use of foxglove can lead to symptoms of toxicity, including visual halos, yellow-green vision, and stomach upset.

 

The good news is that measuring digoxin (a form of digitalis) concentrations in the blood can help detect foxglove poisoning. If the detective and the other investigators are savvy about plants and gardens and the neighborhood dynamic, asking the right questions will uncover the reason and method of the deed. Case closed.

 

*Please note: This post is for entertainment purposes only.

 

 

 

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KN, p. 252 “Tasers and Stun Guns”

 

TASER devices and stun guns each have slightly different functions, but the common purpose is to shock the aggressor and allow time to move strategically for improved control over the situation, without using lethal force. A TASER can be shot from a distance, and a stun gun requires direct contact with the attacker.

 

Stun Gun

 

 

This stun gun has sharp points which might pierce clothing and will even set off an electric charge if somebody tries to grab it.

 

Other stun guns resemble cellphones, while another type looks just like a mag light. Neither has great power, so in order to get close enough to use it effectively, an attacker may be able to get the upper hand against an untrained civilian. Some stun guns are in the shape and length of a baton (12-19 inches) allowing the user to be a step or two away, rather than just at arm’s length.

 

In many states, law enforcement groups have been using stun guns to subdue targets for years. Pepper spray occasionally blows back at the user, so private citizens sometimes opt for using a stun gun as a self-defense tool.

 

Designed in the 1960s for use in tight spaces (inside airplanes) when firing a gun would be especially dangerous, a Taser is considered a safer (non-lethal) alternative to a handgun if used correctly. Concerned about a rise in gun-related injuries during arrests or captures, some law enforcement jurisdictions around the country have required that Tasers and/or stun guns be added to their officers’ equipment belts, giving the officer a choice in tense or escalating situations.

 

Taser and cartridge

 

How does a Taser work? The cartridge contains 15-20 foot wires with probes attached at the end. The wires shoot out when the weapon is used. When the probes reach the target, they deliver a shock as well as pain, but this will only happen if both probes insert into the person’s body. In general, the person loses muscle control when hit with the probes, making an arrest easier or allowing the officer to stop an ongoing attack.

 

There are a variety of Tasers on the market, some of which guarantee contact even through clothing. Some recent Taser models also include the stun gun feature so that the prongs don’t have to be fired during every use.

 

One criticism of some Tasers is that they can misfire, causing real problems for the officer during an attack. The LATimes ran an article about the issue, comparing effective use in successive years:

 

https://www.latimes.com/local/crime/la-me-lapd-tasers-20160401-story.html?utm_campaign=meetedgar&utm_medium=social&utm_source=meetedgar.com&fbclid=IwAR17l2SVeCW7idV6PJVIm3nzh-U-jkmIh0bqVSfcFi_UoZlIp7xFXTwtaKs

 

Less critical, but potentially disturbing to a civilian Taser owner, is that storage in the home might become an issue. A curious friend or neighbor happening upon the Taser might fire it ‘just to see what it does.’ If it happens to misfire accidentally, somebody could get hurt. Burn marks on floors and ceilings from mis-firing have been reported by Kerrian followers, even when the Tasers have been handled properly. (True story)

 

Expense is a factor. Stun guns usually cost between $10 and $30. TASER devices have a lot more power and are a lot pricier because of that – running anywhere between $450 to $1,100. If the department in a town of 100,00 people has 180 officers working in the field and the units cost a minimum of $450 each – do the math. That’s an initial hit to the city budget of $81,000 and that’s before the replacement cartridges, etc. Each time the Taser is fired, it needs to be recharged and in some cases, a new cartridge must be inserted – at a cost of between $25 to $35 each.

 

Need to replace the Kevlar vests this year (a necessity every five years) or get that new million dollar fire truck the city needs so badly? Even if the Taser (or stun gun) is a great idea, the budget may not be able to handle it. So, if your town’s officers would like to have that option available to them, grants and donations from local law enforcement supporters may need to be sought out.

 

Legality

As of 2018, four states required background checks for Taser ownership.

  • Illinois
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota


Two (2) states where Tasers and stun guns are completely banned for use for anyone other than law enforcement:

  • Hawaii
  • Rhode Island


But, most states do not regulate the purchase of Tasers or stun guns. That means no training requirements, background checks, or paperwork. Anyone in those states can buy and use them for self-defense. In many states, it is illegal to carry a concealed stun gun outside of your own home, and specifically illegal to carry it on school property. In some jurisdictions, stun guns are considered dangerous or deadly weapons, and as such, fall under those laws. Deadly weapons are generally banned from:

  • parades
  • funerals
  • public demonstrations
  • government buildings


It’s important to note about ownership of either a stun gun or a Taser or a combo of the two:

 

If someone falls and suffers a heart attack or other injury during the commission of a crime after being shocked with a stun gun or Taser, there are serious consequences. Instead of seeing its non-lethal purpose, the court may conclude that the tragic result came from the use, not the intent. i.e. the person might not have had the heart attack if not for being Tasered. If that happens, we now have a deadly weapon, and the legal concerns change under the law.

 


What are your thoughts about the use of Tasers and/or stun guns? Let us know in the comments below.

 

*Photos from Amazon

 

 

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