Warm weather sparks alert over lethal plants

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SCOTS are being warned to take extra care in the outdoors after this summer’s good weather sparked an increase in some of the country’s deadliest plants.

Many people are aware of the dangers from the more common poisonous plants, but this year’s bountiful growing season has led to an increased threat from some of the lesser-known hazards.

Experts say that plants such as hemlock water dropwort, a member of the carrot family, could be lethal if eaten.

Most walkers and pet-owners know to avoid plants such as ragwort, yew and foxgloves but experts have warned of the dangers whose toxic qualities are less well recognised.

Recent research has also found that sycamore seeds can be harmful to animals, particularly horses.

This summer’s fine weather has seen flora flourish across the country – but many plants commonly found in gardens and the countryside can cause serious health problems for animals and people.

Scotland’s chief veterinary officer Sheila Voas said: “Scotland is looking especially verdant this summer but animal owners need to be mindful that such lush and abundant greenery contains hidden dangers.

“Many plants commonly found in gardens and the Scottish countryside are poisonous to pets and if eaten can cause sickness and even death - although thankfully such cases are rare.

“Some of these toxic threats are well known, such as ragwort, yew and foxgloves.

“But there are also lesser-known risks to look out for including sycamore seeds – which have recently been discovered to be noxious - and hemlock water dropwort, also known as poisonous parsnip, which is particularly profuse this summer.

“It is important that animal owners fully understand these potential perils for their pets and that they are responsible for their animals’ well-being.”

Under the Weeds Act, Scottish ministers can require landowners to take action against poisonous plants spreading but this is limited to a small number of specified plants and is deployed only when there is a clear and direct threat - for example to livestock or horses.

She added: “The onus is therefore on animal owners to remain vigilant and take appropriate steps to minimise the risk of pets falling ill or even dying after accidentally ingesting a poisonous plant, and to seek prompt veterinary advice if they suspect their animal may have been poisoned.”

Dr Mark Coleman, science communicator for the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, warned that amateur foragers should be absolutely sure they know the identity of a plant before eating it or face a game of Russian roulette.

In the case of hemlock water dropwort, which is related to its infamously toxic namesake, the plant’s foliage resembles flat-leaf parsley while roots look similar to the edible wild parsnip.

It is possibly the most poisonous plant in the UK and ingesting just a small amount could kill a human.

“Never put anything in your mouth if you don’t know exactly what it is,” he said..

“Children especially should be taught to check with an adult before trying anything they find.

“If you go about randomly putting things in your mouth it’s only a matter of time before you pick something that will cause you harm.”