The Poison Garden at The Alnwick Garden (alnwickgarden.com) in Northumberland in the UK celebrates and displays toxic and dangerous plants. Most are grown outdoors. This new addition, unveiled last week, is displayed outdoors but in isolation in a glass case alongside cannabis, ricin and henbane.
The plant is Dendrocnides moroides, also known as the stinging tree, or gympie gympie plant. It is an Australian native and not one to get on the wrong side of. The plant is covered in hairs, called trichomes, which are like little hypodermic needles.
According to Dr Suzanne Moss (@drsuemoss), author and Head of Education at the Royal Horticultural Society, posting on Twitter about the unveiling of this new addition to the garden, it is in isolation because it is one of the most venomous and dangerous plants in the world.
“If you touch it, the sensation is likened to being burned and electrocuted at the same time, and the effects can persist for YEARS.”
The stinging hairs are like those found on stinging nettles but the poison is much more significant as tiny particles break off in the skin and can also enter airways.
“The toxin still isn’t fully understood, but an associated peptide was named ‘gympietide’ after the plant in 2020, through ongoing research. It is now being used to research future painkillers,” adds Dr Moss. “There is no antidote for the toxin, which is reported to have forced people to be tied to beds for the pain, horses to go mad and at least one person to end their own life. The best treatment seems to be wax or sticky tape to try to remove the hairs, but with limited success.”
See more about gympie gympie at Alnwick and the Poison Garden here. Discover more about Dr Suzanne Moss and plants at suzannemoss.co.uk/library.