Poison plants inspire the crime writers

Autumn crocus is poisonous. Picture by Tom Pattinson.
Autumn crocus is poisonous. Picture by Tom Pattinson.

Many of the common or garden plants we grow contain poisons, but it’s surprising how many of the people who join our tours at The Alnwick Garden are unaware of this.

The dangers of monkshood (aconitum), laburnum and rhubarb leaves are generally well known, but they’re shocked when we explain why columbine, hellebore and popular bulbs such as daffodil and autumn crocus are growing amongst the poisonous plants. They are there on merit!

Morbid as it may seem, we research incidents of injury and death by plant poisoning to re-enforce the message that drug-taking and careless handling of plants can be fatal.

Confirmation that we are getting it right came recently at an organised event, What Happens When Forensic Science And Crime Writing Collide?

There was a good turn-out by members of the public and poison garden guides for three different sessions – Deadly Explorations In Nature, The Facts and Fiction of Crime Writing and Come Dine With Me.

These were led by Ann Cleeves, of Vera and Shetland fame, head of soil forensics professor Lorna Dawson and James Grieve, professor of forensic pathology.

In such exalted company, we were guided through the properties of actual plants on a tour of The Poison Garden.

In a later session, we discussed the difficulties in identifying some poisons in relation to crime, followed by a signing of Ann’s latest Vera book, The Seagull.

I did not hang around for the final session, a murder mystery specially written for The Alnwick Garden by Ann and Lorna, lest someone had tampered with the food!

Informative and reassuring, this was truly one of the best in-service training sessions ever.