UK’s deadliest garden seeks to educate its guests, not kill them

Front gate of the Poison Garden. Photo by the Alnwick Garden.

The gate to UK’s Poison Garden is painted with text warning that “these plants can kill.” The plants referred to are the 100 deadly plants grown in this garden, which is part of the Alnwick Garden complex of Northumberland, England. If the ominous text on the gate is not enough warning, guests are instructed not to touch, taste, or smell anything. Management also warns that previous guests have fainted just by inhaling fumes while walking along the garden.

Those brave enough to enter this deadly garden are rewarded with an educational experience on the world’s most toxic plants.

Among the plants featured in the garden are wolf’s bane and castor bean plant (Ricinus communis), which the Guinness World Records recognizes as the world’s most poisonous plant because of the toxin it produces called ricin.

The garden also features plants that are commonly found in the UK but are actually poisonous. There is the laburnum tree, the second deadliest tree in the UK; the hellebore, which has roots that contain a cardiotoxin capable of stopping a human heart; and the English laurel (Prunus laurocerasus), which releases cyanide gas when trimmed.

But certain plants that can poison people are also capable of curing certain ailments. While the leaves of the UK’s deadliest tree, the yew (Taxus baccata), contain high amounts of toxic alkaloids, its bark and needle-like leaves are the source of substances used to treat cancer. 

What is deadly does not only mean poisonous, there are also those that destroy lives. The garden features plants used in illegal drugs such as opium poppies, cannabis, and khat. This is to promote drug awareness among the youth since northeast England has the highest rate of drug-related deaths in England and Wales. 

But before guests come up with the wrong ideas, the garden staff already has precautionary measures put in place. They monitor the count of their drug plants and destroy them after every season.