Popular Botany

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WE do not expect accurate scientific information from journalists; but so much confusion and error are seldom compressed into a small space as are to be found in a paragraph of which I send you extracts, cut from a London daily:—“A sad case of accidental poisoning by wild hemlock is reported from Tyne Dock. A little band of school children playing on some waste ground had gathered a quantity of a common variety of this dangerous plant, known to country folk as ‘fool's parsley’. According to the evidence of one of the party, a little girl aged eight named Pringle, her sister ‘said it was cabbage, and she should eat some’. Another boy and girl, named Shafter, who were still younger, followed her example. All three were soon afterwards taken ill. One ‘complained of her legs as if they were tired’—a common symptom of hemlock poisoning—and ‘her head afterwards got bad’. Pringle ultimately recovered under treatment, but the two Shafters on reaching home gradually became unconscious, and died the same afternoon within twenty minutes of each other. This species of hemlock, known to science as the Conium maculatum, is said to be much more poisonous in May than in any other month.” It would be interesting to know what the plant really was. It can hardly have been the true hemlock, Conium maculatum, and instances of fatal poisoning by fool's parsley, Aethusa cynapium, are so rare that an authentic record would be valuable. It is difficult to imagine either of these plants being mistaken for cabbage. Can it have been Cicuta virosa or Oenanthe crocata? It would be interesting if any reader of NATURE could throw light on the subject.

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BENNETT, A. Popular Botany. Nature 48, 104 (1893) doi:10.1038/048104a0

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