Plants that bite back

Have you found that some garden plants are irritating? Take plants in the carrot family for example, like parsnips and Queen Anne’s Lace or Daucus carota, which is also known as Wild Carrot, it smells like carrot and is hairy and when its sap comes into contact with skin in sunlight it causes a blistering rash. As it’s quite invasive you must therefore, take care when pulling it up. 

A favourite of the horticulturis and notable flower arranger, Sarah Raven, Daucus carrota Purple Kisses Mixed is the must-have filler for the vase. The airy blooms come in crimson and white and if the cut ends are dipped into boiling water they will last up to a week in the vase. 

Sow Daucus carrota thinly in rows one cutting patch during August and September, covering lightly with sieved soil or sow them indoors in spring and harden off and transplant after the risk of frost is past. Plants will tolerate dry soil and will remain productive for 8-10 weeks.

If you want to grow a similar looking plant that is less irritating, sow and grow the Bishop’s Flower or Ammi majus, which has similar lacy, white flowers, like a more delicate form of cow parsley. The blooms make a great, long-lasting addition to bouquets, and work well among a range of plants in a mixed herbaceous border.

Ruta graveolens Jackman’s Blue is a sterile form of Rue has yellow blossoms held just above the 60cm clumps of neat and tidy foliage. It attracts bees and butterflies and does well in sunny well drained spots. Be sure to wear gloves when handling this plant if you have sensitive skin.
Rue or Ruta graveolens causes similar effects and skin discolouration and some people say that merely being close to rue causes burns to appear, which can take several weeks to heal.

In folklore, Rue was used to keep various unpleasant things out of the house. Typically it was hung in doors and windows to prevent evil spirits from entering the house and sometimes sprigs were worn on the belt to safeguard themselves from evil spirits. Juice from a crushed stem spread on a wall around a doorway or window frame was also used to keep fleas out of the house. It’s this belief that led to rue being used in mosquito repellent creams.

Dictamnus albus, known as the gas plant, also belongs to the Rue family and also has a chemical in the sap that reacts to UVA light and causes blistering that can take a few hours to develop. The skin can remain discoloured for months after the blisters fade.

Other plants to be aware of are tulips. Handle them on a sunny day and the sap may cause Tulip Bulb Dermatitis or ‘tulip itch’ that can lead to blistering. Also about 6 per cent of a hyacinth bulb is composed of tine calcium oxalate crystals, which are sharp and can irritate skin on contact. They can also become airborne and cause rashes on other areas of skin too.

Primulas, and especially Primula obconica, which has hairy leaves can also cause skin dermatitis that sometimes can be quite painful.

Don’t rub your eyes whilst handling Primula obconica as it will cause them to painfully swell

Primulas, and especially Primula obconica, which has hairy leaves can also cause skin dermatitis that sometimes can be quite painful.

The scratchy hairs of black-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia hirta can also cause mild skin irritation that only subsides when the area is washed with soap and water.
People with sensitive skin also get an itchy rash when they handle tomato leaves and will get a similar reaction to other plants in the nightshade family like potatoes and aubergines.

If you’re not yet convinced yet that you should wear gloves whilst gardening then grab a nettle. Stinging nettle plants have small hairs that puncture the skin and exude a combination of histamine, serotonin, acetylcholine, and formic acid, which results in welts and very itchy, stinging skin. The pain is similar to a wasp sting!


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