Saturday, 5 July 2014

Peas 'n' Poisons

Our garden seems to be full of flowers of one particular family of plants right now, the Pea family, Fabaceae or what used to be known as Leguminosae. Some have made our garden their home, without any intervention from us. These include the White Clover (Trifolium repens) in the lawn.
Others are here because we wanted them to be. In the case of our Runner Beans (Phaseolus coccineus) this year, it seems the slugs and snails wanted them too.
Despite the repeated onslaught of those slimy little beggers, we still have a couple of plants flowering bravely and there are few garden flowers with brighter red flowers than these common veg.
Our Everlasting Sweet Peas, which we grew from seed collected from a plant which we found growing wild, is now blooming beautifully too. The pink/purple flowers are typically 'pea-like' and while they lack the scent of cultivated Sweet Peas, they more than make up for it with their perennial nature, meaning we don't need to re-sow every year.
Enough of the Peas and on to the Poisons mentioned in the title.  Watching Gardeners' World on the BBC last night, I was reminded by Monty Don, of the poisonous plant known as Hemlock and got to wondering where I had seen some growing around these parts. Quite by coincidence, on our walk through Pewit Carr this morning, we passed those very plants.
Hemlock (Conium maculatum) is a member of the carrot family, but you wouldn't want to eat this one!  The plant contains several poisonous compounds, the most noted of which is called Coniine and has properties similar to nicotine and attacks the central nervous system. In a similar way to the poison Curare, Coniine disrupts the interchange between nerves and muscles.  In this way, it can cause 'creeping' paralysis which will eventually reach the respiratory system, causing death by oxygen deprivation.  It seems that ingesting only a small amount of the plant can be fatal.  Six or seven leaves can cause death and it takes a smaller amount of seed or root to have the same effect.  The ancient Greeks used Hemlock to dispatch condemned prisoners, the most famous of these being the philosopher Socrates in 399 BC.
One member of the carrot family to steer clear of then!
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