Friday, 5 October 2018

Of Thorn Apples and other things

Just as silly headlines appear in newspapers about False Widow Spiders (several schools in London's East End have been closed recently for fumigation) so it is with the Thorn Apple, Datura stramonium.

  'Poison arrow plant found in English garden' (Independent, 7 August, 2010)

  'Deadly tropical plant grows in Suffolk Garden' (Telegraph, 6 August, 2009)

  'The deadly household plant that teens are using to get high - and kills hundreds each year' Daily Mail, (apparently encouraging young people to experiment!) 10 May, 2013


I wrote a blog on the subject recently (22 August, 2018) and I am tempted to add a little but, interesting though the plant is, there is only so much that can be said before readers nod off. Suffice it to say that it is still today (5 October, 2018) flourishing in the grounds of Northampton's General Hospital.

Despite alarmist headlines I suspect no one will be chomping on the plants and, even though they are on the edge of a busy car park, the odds are that no one has noticed them.

Thorn Apple showing the spiky fruit from which the plant gets its
common name. Northampton General Hospital. 5 October, 2018
Oddly enough the were growing cheek by jowl with another extremely poisonous plant, Hemlock, Conium maculatum. This looks vaguely like parsley but I don't think they'll be a part of anyone's fish dish tonight. The third member of the original triumvirate of toxic plants, Deadly Nightshade, has disappeared - or at least, I couldn't find any.

A dastardly duo. On the left, Thorn Apple with, on the left, Hemlock.
Over almost every border in the hospital grounds, sprawls Traveller's Joy, Clematis vitalba. The garden staff seem to have adopted a policy of benign neglect for, although it was surely never planted, it is an attractive species. Its clusters of stamens are arguably more of a feature than the petals (which in fact are really sepals, but who among the public cares?) The flowers will be replaced by feathery fruits, described vividly by Gilbert White: 'The downy seeds of traveller's joy fill the air, & driving before a gale appear like insects on the wing.'

Traveller's Joy, aka Old Man's Beard, with its starburst of stamens.
The day was sunless and, initially, on the cool side so few insects were around. A lone bug, Elasmucha grisea, was on a birch leaf. Known as the Parent Bug as a result of the way it protects its offspring, it is very common but pleasing to see.

The Parent Bug wears sombre colours. Very sensible too.
Northampton General Hospital. 5 October, 2018
Although Chris was visiting the hospital today her treatment is complete and hopefully it will be a long time before we need to return.

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