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STANDARDS

NGSS: Core Idea: LS3.B

CCSS: Literacy In Science: 2

TEKS: 6.12E, 7.11, 8.11A, B.12A


World's Deadliest Garden

The toxic plants found in this garden could make you sick . . . or worse! 

ESSENTIAL QUESTION: What types of defenses might plants use to protect themselves from being eaten?

JIM MCMAHON/MAPMAN®

Beyond a dark, sinister-looking gate in northern England’s Alnwick Garden grow beautiful plants—many of which can kill you. Alnwick’s Poison Garden is home to 100 plant species that produce a range of deadly toxins—poisonous chemicals made by living things. A bite of their berries, a brush with their leaves, or a sniff of their flowers could make a person dangerously ill.

“All plants have some sort of chemical or physical defenses against animals that want to eat them or diseases that could infect them,” explains Dan Brown, a biologist at Cornell University in New York. Physical defenses could be things like prickly thorns or hard, armor-like bark. “The chemical defenses are very often toxins,” says Brown.

A spooky-looking black gate stands in northern England’s Alnwick Garden. Behind it, beautiful plants grow. Many of them can kill you. Alnwick’s Poison Garden is home to 100 plant species that produce different deadly toxins. These are poisonous chemicals made by living things. A bite of their berries or a brush with their leaves spells danger. Even a sniff of their flowers could make a person extremely ill.

“All plants have some sort of chemical or physical defenses against animals that want to eat them or diseases that could infect them,” explains Dan Brown. He’s a biologist at Cornell University in New York. Physical defenses could be things like prickly thorns or hard, armor-like bark. “The chemical defenses are very often toxins,” says Brown. 

Toxins usually make the plants’ tissues unappetizing to wildlife. But the chemical defenses of some plants—like those in the Poison Garden—can be much more dangerous. Most of the plants are exotic species from remote parts of the world. Despite being poisonous, many toxic plants are commonly used for landscaping. And some might be found growing right in people’s backyards—that’s why you should never munch on plants you come across.

Visitors to the Poison Garden are welcome to take a tour. But for their own safety, they’re advised not to touch, taste, or smell anything. Gardeners always wear gloves when handling the plants. To care for the most toxic varieties, they don face shields and full bodysuits to prevent foliage from touching their skin.

Take a look at some of the lethal plants found in Alnwick’s Poison Garden in the slideshow below . . . if you dare.

Most toxins make the plants taste bad to hungry animals. But some plants have much more dangerous chemical defenses. These include the plants in the Poison Garden. Most of them come from faraway parts of the world. Even though they’re poisonous, many toxic plants are often used for landscaping. Some might be found growing right in people’s backyards. That’s why you should never eat plants you come across.

Visitors to the Poison Garden can take a tour. But they’re told not to touch, taste, or smell anything. That’s for their own safety. Gardeners always wear gloves to handle the plants. To care for the most toxic kinds, they wear face shields and full bodysuits. That keeps the leaves from touching their skin.

Take a look at some of the deadly plants in Alnwick’s Poison Garden in the slideshow below . . . if you dare.

CORE QUESTION: Of the plants listed, which plant(s) do you think would require gardeners to wear a face shield? Explain why.

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