It’s a beautiful day to walk through a garden. The berries, the leaves, everything looks beautiful. Even the smell is to die for. And we mean that literally. Alnwick Castle is located in the north of England. It’s famous for appearing in the Harry Potter movies and its beautiful gardens. But part of the garden is restricted by locked iron gates. Why? Because it’s home to about 100 plants that could kill you. Why do people pass out in the garden? Which plant can make you fall asleep while you’re driving? And which plant is the most dangerous? Alnwick Garden receives 600,000 visitors every year. Many of them faint because they don’t follow these steps.
Step 1. Listen to your guide
The skulls and crossbones on the gates might seem a bit dramatic. But every plant in this garden could kill or seriously harm you. That’s why you can only enter this garden as part of a guided tour. Your guide will tell you what you can and can’t do. If you follow their advice, it will protect you from passing out or needing medical help.
Step 2. Hands off
Some of the plants are phototoxic. If you touch them, they could burn you. One example is Ruta graveolens, also known as rue or Herb of Grace. Brushing your skin against it could cause third-degree burns, especially if it’s a really hot day.
Step 3. Don’t eat the plants
Don’t get fooled by those delicious-looking berries. This is Atropa belladonna. It got its name from the beautiful ladies in Venice, who used its juice to dilate their pupils.These berries can cause vomiting, delirium and in severe cases, coma. Be extra careful if you’re taking children to the garden. Eating just three belladonna berries can kill them. So could eating the fungus of devil’s finger plants. Dying only takes ten hours. The Poison Garden puts one plant in a special cage. It’s the Ricinus communis or castor bean. It’s the most poisonous plant on the planet, especially when it has been processed into ricin and injected. Chewing and eating the seeds can cause vomiting, abdominal cramps and multisystem organ failure.
Step 4. Don’t Stop and Smell the Flowers
Hyoscyamus niger, Henbane OR hog’s-bean might be the main reason people faint during the tours. Eating it can cause hallucinations, hypertension and convulsions. Just smelling the flower can result in giddiness and fainting. Every week, up to three people faint in the Poison Garden. That’s why there is a bench for people to sit on and first aid on-site for emergencies.
Step 5. Leave them behind
Even if you collect poisonous plants safely while wearing gloves, you could still be in danger. Prunus laurocerasus, or laurel, contains cyanide. If you put laurel in your car and the windows are closed, the plant’s fumes can make you fall asleep at the wheel. Other plants, like Angel’s Trumpet, have mild hallucinogenic effects when eaten. If you get some of its pollen on you, it could get into your body. That can cause hallucinations and sleepiness. Wash your clothes after visiting the Poison Garden, just to be sure. You survived this deadly garden, and you learned that some of the common plants you see in people’s yards can be poisonous.
- Step Inside the World’s Most Dangerous Garden (If You Dare). Geiling, N. (2014). Smithsonian Magazine.
- Alnwick Poison Garden (2022). Atlas Obscura.
- Ricinus communis (2015). Science Direct.
- Don’t Smell the Flowers: How Alnwick Castle’s Poison Garden Finds Beauty in the World’s Deadliest Plants. Debczak, M. (2021). Mental Floss.