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.
The profusion of delicate pink flowers produced by the Nerium oleander belie the potency of its toxicity, which extends not just to its leaves, roots and blooms, but also to its sap. The plant contains compounds known as cardiac glycosides and ingestion of any of its parts can cause an attack on the central nervous system manifesting in diarrhoea, stomach pain, vomiting, rapid pulse, heart malfunction and, in extreme cases, death. Even coming into contact with the plant can result in extensive skin blistering and eye inflammation.
Dracula's Flower (Dracunculus vulgaris)
Also known as the Voodoo Lily, the sculptural form of a flowering Dracunculus vulgaris is a truly delightful piece of natural art. The plant can grow up to four feet tall and produces hand-sized flowers, the petals of which curl elegantly around like Dracula's cape (hence the name, of course). But its aesthetic attributes are a trade off for its extremely unpleasant odour (often described as like rotting flesh) and the fact that every part of the plant, including the striking deep magenta flower, is poisonous. Brushing up against it can cause blistering and skin irritation, while ingestion leads to vomiting and extended periods of stomach cramps.
Professional Flower Tours
Professional flower tours provide the perfect opportunity for amateur botanists to encounter some of the most exotic plant life in the world – including some of the more unusual and dangerous ones – under the guidance of a qualified naturalist. Seeing the magnificence of flora in its wild, natural setting is not just educational and memorable; for nature lovers, dedicated flower tours can be truly inspirational.
Marissa Ellis-Snow is a freelance nature writer with a special interest in wildflowers. As a passionate lover of botany, Marissa chooses the expert-led flower tours organised by Naturetrek, which have brought her unforgettable encounter with a wide range of plant species in some of the most spectacular regions on Earth.
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