What muscle paralysis can kill you

Beware of killer plants, even if they look harmless

Beware of killer plants, even if they look harmless

They look harmless, but they hide a dangerous poison. The list of killer plants is long, and ignorance about them is deadly. The variety of defense strategies of plants is great.

The plants bloom peacefully in the garden or by the wayside. But woe to anyone who gets too close to them or bites into them. Because among these plants there could be killer plants equipped with illustrious, poisonous murder weapons. And for good reason: because plants cannot run away when danger threatens. So they need defense strategies to defend themselves against herbivores, aggressive fungi and bacteria. In doing so, they rely on chemistry, form toxic or at least harmful substances that repel or kill infection and predators.

Most of these killer plants belong to the flowering plants that we prefer to see in our gardens. Like the monkshood that is sold in every garden center. Monkshood, like all flowering plants, attracts its pollinators with a combination of scent, color and food - each perfectly tailored to a specific species of animal. The monkshood values ​​the long-nosed garden bumblebee as a pollinator.

Nectar has to reward the right one

Like most insects, they are primarily interested in nectar. This candy rewards the right pollinator, which guarantees the plant's reproduction. However, other insects like the ants also like the nectar, which, if possible, simply drill a hole through the flower cover in order to get to the sweet food.

Monkshood prevents this by storing toxins in its sepals. So its nectar is reserved for the garden bumblebee with the long trunk. To repel nectar robbers, the monkshood uses an extremely powerful poison that has been known since the third century BC. If the plant is eaten anyway, its poison affects those nerve signals that regulate human body signals and cause muscle paralysis and cardiac rhythm changes.

Caught murderess

A jealous, abandoned woman in England took advantage of this ten years ago. She mixed the Himalayan monkshood powder with a curry and served it to her former partner and his fiancé. The latter survived, the ex-husband died of ventricular fibrillation and circulatory failure. The analysis of the curry and the herbal mixture by the British police convicted the poison cook.

So it is not surprising that the legendary British crime novelist Agatha Christie was a trained pharmacist who had worked in drug distribution during both world wars. She used her knowledge of poisons in many of her 66 crime novels. In “The Secret of the Gold Mine” a murderer uses the poison taxin from the yew tree. With the bitter-tasting yew poison, he kills his second wife and the maid. Yew venom tastes bitter, however - no problem for a murderer from Britain. He mixes the taxin of the yew tree with the bitter British jam.

Paralysis, irritation and standstill

The repertoire of the harmless looking killer plants is diverse. Their toxins bring the heart to a standstill, attack the brain, paralyze the muscles, cause organs such as the kidneys and liver to fail or cause skin irritation or nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. The list of inconspicuous killers in our gardens is long, as is the anecdotes and bizarre case studies cited by the botanist Elisabeth A. Dauncey and the phytochemist Sonny Larsson. The oleander, for example, is particularly nice to look at, which is reminiscent of holidays in Italy and is therefore popular with us in pots. The toxicity of this dog poison plant has already been shown by Alexander the Great. Its soldiers were poisoned because they used the branches of the oleander as a barbecue kebab.

Poisoned quail

The Israelites were also poisoned when they left Egypt, as reported in the Old Testament. They had complained to God that all they had to do was eat manna all the time. So God gave them quail to eat, whereupon the Israelites were struck by a plague that killed many. The fourth book of Moses probably describes coturnism. The migration of the quail (Latin Coturnix coturnix) goes hand in hand with the seed formation of the hemlock. However, the seeds of this plant are poisonous. They poison the meat of the quail and later the people who have it on their plate.

The spotted hemlock has been known as a poisonous plant for ages. Its brew was given to those condemned to death as a poison cup by the Greeks, because its poison, the coniin, paralyzes the muscles. Applied externally it serves as a pain reliever, internally as a sedative and antispasmodic. This shows that the poison of the plants is not only deadly, but can also have healing properties. Over the millennia, people have come to realize the benefits of poisonous plants through trial and error, chance, and thorough research. The poison of the thimble has a therapeutic effect on the heart muscle and that in the willow bark is found in perhaps the most widely used drug today: the chemist Felix Hoffman made aspirin 120 years ago from the poisonous salicylic acid.