Flowers are a magnificent feature of our natural world that we inevitably associate with beauty, romance and, more often than not, a delicate aroma. But amongst all that dazzling colour and fragrance, some of the planet’s myriad species of flowering plants are not always what they seem…
Water Hemlock (Cicuta)
One of the highly toxic members of the Apiaceae family, Cicuta is an herbaceous plant usually found growing in marshy areas or along riverbanks. They can grow up to 2.5m and have stripy purple leaves and produce a very pretty head of small green and white flowers. The roots of the plant are saturated with cicutoxin, which spreads throughout the stem and leaves as it grows. If ingested by humans or animals, the toxin acts on the central nervous system, causing tremors, convulsions, cramps, nausea, vomiting and, in extreme cases, seizures, asphyxia and death.
The Poison Queen (Aconitum)
Species of Aconitum (there are around 350) go under a host of names including Wolf’s Bane, Leopard’s Bane, Devil’s Helmet, Queen of Poisons and Monkshood. Whatever name is used, there’s no denying its reputation as one of the most dangerous flowering plants in the world. It produces a delicate purple/blue bloom, somewhat like the shape of a monk’s cowl – hence its most common nickname. This perennial plant grows up to four feet tall and is found growing wild in high altitudes of the northern hemisphere. Its roots contain a highly potent alkaloid toxin that spreads throughout the entire plant and is toxic if ingested or absorbed through the skin by handling.