10 Poisonous Plants in the UK you should know

10 Poisonous Plants in the UK you should know

Learning to find food in the wild is thrilling, foraging for edible plants that can sustain and revitalise us if needed, but it does not come without risks.

As much as we love to help our kids go wild we also need to prepare them (and ourselves) for the dangers it contains, equipping them with the knowledge to play safe.

The picturesque landscapes of the United Kingdom are inviting, but there are hidden dangers lurking amidst the beauty. As we encourage our children to explore the natural world, it is essential to be aware of the potential hazards they may encounter, particularly when it comes to poisonous plants. Here are ten poisonous plants found in the UK that parents, carers and children should know about.

1. Hemlock Water Dropwort (Oenanthe crocata)

This plant is the most poisonous in the UK, and even a small amount can be lethal. Hemlock water dropwort is often found near water sources, and its toxic compounds can cause seizures and respiratory failure. Exercise extreme caution and educate children to stay away from it.

Hemlock Water Dropwort is a perennial plant found near water sources. It has hollow, ridged stems and deeply divided, glossy green leaves. The plant produces clusters of tiny white flowers arranged in umbels.

Photo credits: Hemlock flowers By Krzysztof Ziarnek, Kenraiz – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Leaves close up By Alex Lockton – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Flower clusters By Alex Lockton – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

2. Poison Hemlock (Conium maculatum)

One of the most poisonous plants found in the UK, hemlock can be fatally toxic even in small doses. Its resemblance to other non-toxic plants makes it particularly dangerous, so it is crucial to educate both children and adults about its distinctive features. All parts of the plant are toxic, especially the seeds and roots, especially if ingested. The famous philosopher Socrates died in agony from hemlock poisening, insisting a scribe record his death.

Hemlock is a tall, erect biennial or perennial plant with hollow, smooth, and purple-spotted stems. It features lacy, fern-like leaves that are divided into numerous small leaflets. The plant produces clusters of tiny white flowers that form umbrella-shaped clusters. It is similar to, and easy to confuse with, Cow’s Parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris)

Photo credits: Shrub Public Domain, Flower close-up By Djtanng – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, , Seeds By Totnesmartin – Own work, Public Domain, Illustration By Franz Eugen Köhler, Köhler & Medizinal-Pflanzen (text on p. 154, illustrations in back) – List of Koehler Images, Public Domain

3. Deadly Nightshade (Atropa belladonna)

This highly toxic plant, with its attractive berries, poses a severe risk to curious children. Ingesting even a few of these berries can lead to hallucinations, seizures, and, in extreme cases, fatalities. The foliage and berries are extremely toxic, the berries pose the greatest danger to children because they look attractive and have a somewhat sweet taste.

Deadly Nightshade is a perennial plant with purple or greenish-brown stems and dark green, oval-shaped leaves. It produces small, bell-shaped flowers that are usually purple or green in color, followed by glossy, round berries that ripen to a dark purple shade.

Photo credits: Shrub By Rüdiger Kratz, CC BY-SA 3.0, Flower By Danny S. – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Green Berries By Agnieszka Kwiecień, Nova – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Dark berry By Flobbadob – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

 

4. Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea)

Known for its vibrant colors, foxgloves contain compounds that can disrupt heart rhythms and cause symptoms ranging from nausea to heart failure. Keep a watchful eye on children to prevent accidental ingestion.

Foxglove is a biennial plant with tall stalks covered in soft, hairy leaves that form a rosette in the first year. In the second year, it produces tall spikes adorned with tubular flowers in various shades of pink, purple, or white.

Photo credits: Foxglove leaves by Derek Ramsey (Ram-Man) – Self-photographed, CC BY-SA 2.5, Flowers By Mateus S. Figueiredo – CC BY-SA 3.0, Whole plant By I, Jörg Hempel, CC BY-SA 3.0 de

5. Monkshood (Aconitum napellus)

Also known as aconite, wolfsbane, leopard’s bane, devil’s helmet or blue rocket, monkshood contains a potent toxin that affects the heart and nervous system. Ingestion or even skin contact with this plant can cause paralysis and, in severe cases, lead to respiratory failure.

Monkshood is a perennial plant with tall stems and deeply divided, dark green leaves. Its distinctive hood-shaped flowers range in color from blue and purple to white and are arranged along the length of the stem.

Photo credits: Whole plant By Bernd Haynold – Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5, Seeds By Hardyplants at English Wikipedia – Own work, Public Domain

6. Giant Hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum)

Though not directly poisonous, giant hogweed poses a significant threat due to its toxic sap. Contact with the sap, followed by exposure to sunlight, can cause severe burns and even permanent scarring.

Giant Hogweed is a large perennial plant with thick, bristly stems that can grow up to 5 meters tall. It has deeply lobed, dark green leaves that can span over a meter in width. The plant produces large, umbrella-shaped clusters of white flowers.

Photo credits: Flowers By own work by Appaloosa (Hauptdolde mit Nebendolden Quelle: selbst fotografiert GFDL), CC BY-SA 3.0, Stem By I, Liné1, CC BY-SA 3.0, Whole plant By Fritz Geller-Grimm – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

7. Yew tree (Taxus baccata)

While the yew tree is commonly found in the UK, its dark green foliage and bright red berries should raise caution. The seeds within the berries contain toxic compounds, and even the tree’s needles and bark are poisonous if ingested.

Yew is an evergreen tree or shrub with reddish-brown bark. Its flat, dark green needles are arranged spirally on the branches. The plant produces small, inconspicuous flowers followed by bright red berries, which are actually modified cones with a fleshy, poisonous covering.

Photo credits:

All photos © Deryck van Steenderen

8. Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis)

Although charming in appearance, lily of the valley contains glycosides that can cause heart rhythm disturbances and gastrointestinal problems. Keep this delicate yet dangerous plant out of reach of children.

Lily of the Valley is a low-growing perennial plant with lance-shaped, glossy dark green leaves. It sends up slender stalks bearing small, bell-shaped white flowers that emit a sweet fragrance.

Flowers By Ivar Leidus – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Illustration By Franz Eugen Köhler, Köhler’s Medizinal-Pflanzen – List of Koehler Images, Public Domain, Berries By H. Zell – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Whole plants By Matti Virtala – Own work, CC0

9. Ragwort (Jacobaea vulgaris)

Often found in meadows and pastures, ragwort can be toxic to both humans and animals if ingested. Educate children about the plant’s distinctive yellow flowers and urge them to avoid picking or consuming it.

Ragwort is a biennial or perennial plant with deeply lobed, fern-like leaves covered in fine hairs. It displays clusters of bright yellow daisy-like flowers with prominent dark centers.

Photo credits: Whole plant By Christian Fischer, CC BY-SA 3.0, , Flowers By Trish Steel, CC BY-SA 2.0, Illustration By Carl Axel Magnus Lindman – Bilder ur Nordens Flora no. 20, Public Domain

10. Daffodils (Narcissus spp.)

Surprisingly, these beautiful spring flowers contain toxic alkaloids in their bulbs. Ingestion can cause symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and even convulsions. Teach children to admire daffodils from a distance and avoid putting them in their mouths.

Daffodils are perennial plants with long, slender green leaves that emerge from bulbs in early spring. Each stem produces a single flower adorned with a trumpet-shaped corona and six petals, usually in vibrant shades of yellow or white.

Photo credits: Illustration By Otto Wilhelm Thomé – www.biolib.de; Relevant page from mirror site: [1]Original book source: Prof. Dr. Otto Wilhelm Thomé; Flora von Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz Flora von Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz – in Wort und Bild für Schule und Haus, Public Domain, Flowers By Genet, CC BY-SA 3.0, Single Flower By AnRo0002 – Own work, CC0

As parents, we have a duty to protect our children from potential dangers, and being aware of the poisonous plants that thrive in the UK and Europe is an essential part of this responsibility. By educating ourselves and our children about these toxic plants and their distinguishing features, we can reduce the risk of accidental ingestion or contact. Encourage your children to learn them, and to play aware.