Deadly plant springs up on St Albans’ Bernards Heath

A POISONOUS plant that can be fatal to humans and animals and cause intense hallucinations has been found in open space in St Albans by dog walkers.

The Datura Stramonium, or as it’s commonly known, the Devil’s Trumpet, had been growing on Bernards Heath and attracted attention from dog walkers and residents because of its large egg-shaped seed capsules and its trumpet-shaped creamy flowers.

Residents sought to identify the plant, which is a member of the Deadly Nightshade family, using the Internet and sharing information on the Friends of Bernards Heath forum.

A spokesperson for the county council said that an expert had been dispatched to identify the plant and had confirmed it was a Devil’s Trumpet. She said that the plant had been dug out and that no other such plants were found on the site.

The plant is more commonly found in America and southern Europe but is often found in the UK as a weed on wasteland sites. Its poison can cause dry mouth, blurred vision, heart irregularities, violent behaviour and an inability for the user to distinguish between fantasy and reality. South American Indians traditionally use it to poison their hunting spears.

It is thought the seeds, which can lie dormant underground for years and only germinate once the soil is disturbed, were probably spread via bird droppings.

Sue Lawrence, a dog walker who regularly uses the field, said: “The seed was probably brought in with the soil used by contractors to create the large mounds on the field as part of remedial work following subsidence. Goodness knows where they brought the soil in from to create the ugly mounds.

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“I’m glad the toxic plant has been removed but what about the hundreds of other unidentifiable, tree-like plants that will no doubt soon be spreading their burgeoning seed into the surroundings and neighbouring gardens?

“The field used to be a lovely safe area to use but it now feels creepy because you can’t see over the mounds and all the weeds to check who’s around. It’s about time the council and their contractors sorted out the mess they have created.”

The discovery of the plant is another setback for the open space which was once a relatively level field used to play informal football and other activities until the land subsided on the heath’s lower field last year. Sub-contractors then filled the holes with sub-standard packing material containing some asbestos debris. It was removed following complaints and replaced with new infill but concerns arose regarding the toxicity of the replacement.

Tests last month revealed that the infill was not toxic but residents are still angry that the land has been left disfigured and looking like a “moonscape”.