Richard Williamson's Nature Notes

THE Sussex botanist Oliver Buckle departed this life a few years ago from natural causes. Not, that is, from his experiment of eating a couple of berries that he picked off a deadly nightshade plant.

He told me that he felt just a little drowsy for a while, that was all.

He knew exactly what he was doing '“ he was an expert on plants, especially those of the arum family as well. But three children in the past 200 years have been known to collapse and die from eating these big shiny black berries which look deliciously like Italian cherries.

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For that reason, one or two landowners with invited access problems such as the National Trust might well go out of their way to remove the plants near footpaths.

In my experience children today think even blackberries are poisonous. Atropa belladonna was once thought to have a lot of the chemical atropine, hence the name. It does not.

But there are high quantities of hyoscyamine, which does have some medicinal properties. In 1640, the apothecary Nicholas Culpeper, practising in Red Lion Street, Spitalfields, admitted that the plant had 'a very bad character'.

For full feature see West Sussex Gazette May 23