Britons have the chance to come perilously close to the world’s most venomous plant, after it was introduced to a popular UK garden.
With a sting so deathly, the Gympie Gympie is said to feel like ‘hot acid on the skin’ – and horticulturists who like to live particularly dangerously can see it for themselves at the Poison Garden in Alnwick Castle, setting for two Harry Potter films, in Northumberland.
The garden is currently home to around 100 toxic, intoxicating, and narcotic plants and it’s hoped the new addition will prove popular with daring visitors.
John Knox, lead tour guide at the Poison Garden, says of the Gympie Gympie: ‘The stem, branches, petioles, leaves, and fruits are all covered in the stinging hairs and are not to be touched.
‘The tiny brittle hairs, known as trichomes, are loaded with toxins.The toxins are all over the entire plant and if touched, stay in the skin for up to a year.
‘They release a toxin cocktail into the body during triggering events such as touching the affected area, contact with water, or temperature changes’.
But one has just gone on display at the historic gardens in Northumberland, with the plant being kept in a glass cage due to its menacing nature.
The Gympie Gympie even has its own keeper, and will be displayed alongside deadly Ricin plants and Cannabis.
Formally as Dendrocnide moroides, it belongs to the nettle family Urticaceae, and is found in rainforest areas of Malesia and Australia.
The plant usually flowers and produces its fruits when it is less than three metres tall, and it can reach up to 10m in height.
It’s large, heart-shaped, dark green leaves are incredibly unassuming and long not to be petted or caressed.
For if they are touched, sufferers become pierced with pains akin to feeling electrocuted and on fire at the same time.
Art, history, and Harry Potter: The Life of Alnwick Castle
Alnwick Castle, a 150-room, heavily crenellated, many-towered magnificence perched on a rocky outcrop above the River Aln in Northumberland, is the second-largest privately inhabited castle after Windsor — and it bears the scars of centuries.
There are musket pockmarks, made by Oliver Cromwell’s army, in the yellow sandstone.
In the main entrance, a maroon board offers Broomstick Training sessions on the very spot where Daniel Radcliffe had his first flying lesson in Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone.
Ralph Percy, the 12th Duke, with the help of his energetic Duchess, Jane, transformed Alnwick into one of Britain’s most visited attractions.
The castle is exquisite — an assault of gilded ceilings, gold leaf, polished floors, gleaming swords and exquisite views over the Capability Brown-designed parkland.
There is an art collection, described as one of the finest outside the Royal Collection, which includes works by Turner, Titian, Canaletto, Van Dyck and William Dobson.
Maintenance of the castle costs more than £1.5 million a year. Ralph and Jane had to make the castle work in the 21st century, as a home, a tourist spot and historical treasure, fighting against convention with a raft of visitor attractions, jousting sessions, gift shops and tearoom, and a few controversial decisions.
Over the years, the castle has featured as a backdrop for Blackadder, Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves, Elizabeth, Mary Queen Of Scots, Transformers and the Christmas special of Downton Abbey.
But it was Harry Potter — and, in particular, the broomstick lessons and Quidditch matches — that really changed things.
‘There’s been a huge Harry Potter effect and we’re very grateful for it,’ says Ralph. ‘We do as much Harry Potter stuff as possible and it just doesn’t seem to die out.’
Over the centuries, Alnwick has had so many incarnations, lurching from good fortune to bad and back again with every new monarch.
During the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, the Percys abandoned Alnwick as the north was considered too dangerous.
By the 18th century they were back, and the place was abuzz. There was a staff of more than 200 maids, cooks, valets, butlers, grooms, ten priests and, at one point, even a resident executioner.
Now the staff seems to consist mostly of guides, shop assistants, cafe workers and gardeners. The Percys themselves have a daily as well as a chef.
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