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
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.
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
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.
Questions I get asked all the time:
1) What floats to the top of the favorite article pile for the year? (see below for the 2018 fave list)
2) Do writers gather material for their contest submissions at Kerrian’s Notebook? (yes)
3) Are the crime fans looking for information that explains a particular book they are reading or a movie they have watched? (yes to both)
Here are the top eleven most popular new posts for 2018. Why eleven? 10 & 11 were too close to leave one off the list. 🙂 Click on the links to read the posts for the first time or to enjoy them again.
11) “Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies” http://bit.ly/2QHcSdr
10) “Is That Poison in Your Tea?” http://bit.ly/2NNpIpb
9) “Sheila Sees a Body in the Brush Pile” https://bit.ly/2GQIUyi
8) “What Does the FBI Do?” https://bit.ly/2JivNuP
7) “Death by Freezing” https://bit.ly/2Dym0KS
6) “Parmesan Basil Veggies” http://bit.ly/2Le0Chf
5) “Crime Scene at the Beach” https://bit.ly/2Jp6eo8
4) “Stokes Basket Method” http://bit.ly/2NpGXw5
3) “The Road to Quantico” https://bit.ly/2y6NJUG
2) “Underwater Evidence & Body Recovery” http://bit.ly/2MbkcMo
and the most read new post for 2018 was:
1) “FBI Training at Quantico” https://bit.ly/2IwYyPU
Happy Sleuthing, everyone!