Competition winner claims BBC Countryfile seeds bloomed into killer plant
A KEEN gardener from Wroughton has claimed that a pack of wild flower seeds he won through BBC’s Countryfile and proceeded to cultivate in his garden contained a deadly plant until now believed to be extinct.
When the nature programme offered members of the public the chance to receive plants from Kew Gardens native to their region as part of the Grow Wild campaign, Nigel Crooks jumped at the opportunity to add a new species to his flower bed at home and in his allotment.
In March he planted the seeds and purple flowers eventually bloomed this summer.
On Friday, however, a flower identical to those growing at a steady pace in his garden was spotted in Sunderland and identified as the rare and highly poisonous corn-cockle.
After comparing photographs of the dangerous plant with his own seemingly innocuous wild flowers, he said there was no doubt he had been sent a highly toxic species.
“I was gobsmacked,” he said. “My partner was at work and she was on a coffee break reading the newspaper and she saw a photo of the flower they found in Sunderland. She rang me and said it looked like the ones we had in the garden.
“I googled the story and it turns out the plant is poisonous and it can cause various illnesses and even death.
“I was amazed that something supposed to be extinct for 200 years showed up in my garden. They found one flower in Sunderland, I have hundreds here.”
He added: “I planted them and looked after them diligently. I thought they would be ideal for me to be a bit more green and to encourage butterflies to come.
“From the research I did, the seeds may have lain dormant. I just did it to get regional flowers but now they may be toxic.”
The corn-cockle, a pink or purple flower, originates from other parts of Europe and is believed to have been brought into England by Iron Age farmers.
Part of the plant, which goes by the name agrostemma githago, is filled with glycoside githagin and agrostemnic acid that could lead to severe stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhoea, dizziness, weakness, slow breathing and, in extreme cases, even death.
Nigel immediately contacted Kew Gardens, the Royal Horticultural Society and Countryfile for advice and urged them to help him dispose of the plant adequately and safely.
“I have tweeted the RHS and Kew Gardens and called Countryfile asking them to have it positively identified and to dispose of it properly but I have had no response,” added the member of Wroughton Horticultural Society.
“I’m concerned. I haven’t let the dogs out in the garden and since I found out I’ve stayed away or used gloves.”
Following the discovery in Sunderland last week, Guy Barter, chief advisor at the Royal Horticultural Society, confirmed the flower was harmful.
“This is indeed a very rare flower and was once extinct in Britain,” he said. “The seed may have found its way into a wildflower mix and blown from a garden but they do lay dormant for years.
“They are poisonous and harmful - but as long as you wash your hands thoroughly you should be okay. But I certainly wouldn’t recommend eating one.”
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