TECH & SCIENCE
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.
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.
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.