TECH & SCI­ENCE

Wangaratta Chronicle - North East Regional Extra - - FRONT PAGE - with CHRIS

WHEN it comes to dan­gers in the wild, we of­ten think about an­i­mals like snakes or spi­ders, or larger dan­ger­ous preda­tors like lions, tigers and bears (oh my).

But while most peo­ple are fa­mil­iar with the warn­ing not to in­gest un­known plants, we prob­a­bly don’t give too much con­sid­er­a­tion to the idea of deadly flora.

This week, I thought I’d take a look at some of the most dan­ger­ous plants in the world.

Gympie Gympie (Den­droc­nide mo­roides)

Don’t let the in­nocu­ous sound­ing name fool you - you re­ally don’t want to get any­where near this green, leafy, nat­u­ral ap­pa­ra­tus of un­end­ing tor­ture - found in the rain­for­est ar­eas in north­ern Aus­tralia.

Even breath­ing in the tiny hairs found all over the plant can cause a se­vere sneez­ing fit, breath­ing trou­ble, and nose bleeds.

Touch the plant, and those tiny hairs will stick to you, in­ject­ing a toxin so painful that it can cause vom­it­ing.

The pain will in­crease over the course of 30 min­utes, lead­ing to aching joints and swelling in your armpits which can be as painful as the orig­i­nal st­ing.

Worse still, with­out proper treat­ment, the hairs will re­main stuck to you up to a year later, and if you touch the hairs they will re­lease the toxin into your sys­tem, and the whole cy­cle of pain be­gins anew.

And what is the ‘proper treat­ment’ to get rid of th­ese hairs, you ask?

Wash­ing the area with di­luted hy­drochlo­ric acid, fol­lowed by ap­ply­ing a wax strip to the area to tear out the hairs.

Yikes.

Hem­lock (Co­nium)

Fa­mous as the method of ex­e­cu­tion of the an­cient Greek philoso­pher Socrates, Hem­lock con­tains an in­sid­i­ous toxin known as coni­ine.

Even in rel­a­tively small doses - coni­ine can cause death by dis­rupt­ing your body’s neu­ro­mus­cu­lar junc­tions, re­sult­ing in what is known as as­cend­ing mus­cu­lar paral­y­sis.

The paral­y­sis typ­i­cally be­gins in a per­son’s legs, and as­cends up the body un­til it reaches the re­s­pi­ra­tory mus­cles, re­sult­ing in death.

Poor old Socrates suf­fered this fate af­ter he was tried and found guilty of cor­rupt­ing the minds of youth and impi­ety.

Ole­an­der (Nerium ole­an­der)

This plant is quite an odd­ity, for de­spite it’s po­tent tox­i­c­ity, it’s of­ten used as a dec­o­ra­tive shrub in many parts of the world due to it’s pretty flow­ers.

While it might be nice to look at, don’t go chew­ing on any part of it - its leaves, flow­ers, and fruit all con­tain chem­i­cals known as as car­diac gly­co­sides, which, while ther­a­peu­tic in pre­cise doses, can put you into car­diac ar­rest if in­gested un­sys­tem­at­i­cally.

Wolfs­bane (Aconi­tum)

His­tory buffs should be quite fa­mil­iar with this plant, as wolfs­bane was widely used for the pur­pose of hunt­ing and war­fare in many parts of Asia.

Ap­plied to the tips of ar­rows, the poi­son from wolfs­bane would help to quickly kill quarry, or even other hu­mans.

If ac­ci­den­tally in­gested, wolfs­bane can be fa­tal; the plant con­tains ap­pro­pri­ately named aconi­tine neu­ro­tox­ins and car­diotox­ins, which lead to gas­troin­testi­nal com­pli­ca­tions, mo­tor weak­ness, and heart and lung paral­y­sis.

PRETTY BUT DEADLY: You don’t want to get too close to th­ese flora spec­i­mens. From top left: Gympie Gympie, Hem­lock, Ole­an­der and Wolfs­bane.

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