Poison arrow plant found in British garden

A A A

Daffodils, heart's ease and phlox might be expected in an English country garden – and hollyhocks and forget-me-nots – but a hallucinogenic and highly toxic South American plant used for poison arrowheads might seem a little out of place.

But that was exactly what Sharon Nowell found when she went wandering among the shrubs and blooms of her parents' garden in Keresley near Coventry. At first she spotted what she assumed to be a weed, but as it looked interesting she decided not to dig it up to see how it developed.

A month later it had grown four feet and convinced Ms Nowell and her parents, Anne and Norman, that it was far from native to the Midlands. By searching through pictures on the internet she identified it as Datura stramonium, more colloquially known as the devil's trumpet, the devil's apple, the devil's snare, thorn apple and jimson weed.

Almost as soon as she had identified it, she was inundated with online messages from far and wide warning her that it was highly toxic. The species originates from South America, where it has been used by tribespeople as a toxin on arrowheads to incapacitate prey. It has also been sold in the US as jimson weed, which is used to produce a hallucinogenic effect.

"I was gobsmacked when I found out about it being hallucinogenic," said Ms Nowell. "It's a really dodgy plant to have in a garden. We thought it was a marrow or something. My parents know exactly what is in their garden so they knew they hadn't planted it. Out of curiosity we decided to let it grow and it's flourished. It's been growing about a foot a week. It's a monster now."

Professor Monique Simmonds of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew said the plant has become established in parts of Europe, including France, and it is possible that it will be able to survive a British winter. It is also likely that it has appeared in Britain before, as its toxins have been identified contaminating garden refuse and other products.

"It's been associated with problems with horses and possibly humans before. The flowers are very visual but I wouldn't have thought they would be something people would grow widely. The problem is they get into other materials," Professor Simmonds said.

The plant in Keresley is thought to have hitched a lift from a consignment of other plants being imported into Britain. Alternatively, its seeds might have been included accidentally in bird food brought into this country and sold in pet shops or garden centres, before landing in the Nowell family's garden in the form of a bird dropping.

Professor Simmonds said: "It's hallucinogenic but it's not a plant shamans would have used. It's quite a mild hallucinogenic, and is not in the same class as LSD. The problem is that after the hallucinogenic effects come the toxins. People have used it mixed with flour to get a high. It's one of those things people have taken for a near-death experience."

A spokesman for the Royal Horticultural Society added: "These plants are not native to Britain and we think it arrives in bird seed sold to feed wild birds and generally grown in hot countries where Datura is a very common weed.

"They belong to the same family as deadly nightshade and are highly poisonous if eaten, but they should pose no threat if treated carefully, and unwanted plants can be consigned to the compost bin or green waste collection."

Ms Nowell's mother, Anne, said: "On the internet it says it is poisonous, so Sharon has been telling everyone that her dad is growing drugs in the garden."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Technical Author / Multimedia Writer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This recognized leader in providing software s...

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent