Dog owners warned to look out for poisonous plant after it’s linked to deaths of several pets
- Several dogs have died at a beauty spot near Lough Neagh in County Antrim
- Read more: Adults in their twenties buy cats and dogs as traditional milestones become increasingly unaffordable
Dog owners have been warned to keep an eye out for a plant that could harm their pets – after a spate of deaths in Northern Ireland were linked to the hemlock plant.
The plant, often given the longer name of Hemlock Water Dropwort, contains alkaloids which attack the nervous system, which can cause breathing difficulties, paralysis and even death in domestic animals.
It’s also harmful to humans, with its roots being the most toxic part.
A dog was taken ill and later died while out walking in Lough Neagh in County Antrim in early May, with the animal’s death thought to be possibly caused by exposure to the poisonous plant. Several other canine deaths have been reported in the area.
Pet owners are being warned to keep animals away from hemlock, after the death of several dogs in the north-east was linked to it
Hemlock: The UK’s most potent plant
In Ancient Greece, hemlock was used to kill condemned prisoners, most famously the philosopher Socrates in 399BC.
Its botanical name Conium maculatum comes from the Greek word ‘konas’ meaning to whirl around, because it causes trembling before death.
In Agatha Christie’s murder mystery Five Little Pigs, (1943), the painter Amyas Crale is killed when he is given a hemlock-laced beer to drink.
Some birds do not get poisoned by hemlock, such as larks and quails. But by eating it, they become just as poisonous as the plant.
Due to its sedative properties, Greek and Persian physicians used it to treat arthritis. But they had to stop as it was so easy to give too much and kill people.
The name hemlock comes from the Anglo-Saxons, who also used it in their medicine, and it means ‘shore plant’.
An old English legend had it the purple streaks on the stem represented the brand on Cain’s brow after he had murdered his brother Abel in the Old Testament.
A damp spring is thought to have led to a bumper crop of the plant, which can grow in excess of five feet tall.
Hemlock has clusters of tiny white flowers on long stems with green leaves flecked with red marks.
Arguably the most infamous of poisonous plants, it was a recurring ingredient in Shakespearean potions and used in executions in Ancient Greece, most notably that of Socrates.
The plant is a member of the Apiaceae or Umbellifer family, and grows well in the UK and Northern Ireland climate.
There are concerns it is finding its way into people’s gardens, who may mistake it for similar plants such as Cow Parsley, which is edible.
A spokesperson for the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) said a site inspection on May 23 had found ‘a large amount of toxic but fairly common Hemlock Water Dropwort’ and described it as ‘perhaps the most poisonous indigenous plant.’
Signage has since gone up around the beauty spot to warn pet owners.
Hemlock’s poison causes the plant to emit a foul smell, which botanists have compared to the odour of mouse urine.
Normally reaching heights of between three and six feet, some seen on roadside verges and waste-ground have been much higher.
Back in March, a walker in Carbis Bay, Cornwall found roots, the most potent part, from the toxic plant on the beach.
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