The Poison Gardener Blog

By Eva Waiblinger, zoologist

poisongardentA deadly dose of digitalis? Toxic tulips? Or some hellish Hellebore? Aside from a few mineral poisons, plant poisons have been the method of choice of poisoners throughout history and literature. Plant poisons are especially easy to procure and use in a crime novel, provided the crime writer possesses some knowledge about distribution, habitat, seasons, poisonous parts, toxins and lethal doses, in short, the biology of the intended poisonous plant. To add to this knowledge, this blog will portray a poisonous plant each month.

Annual Plant that grows, flowers and dies within one year. Only seeds survive winter.
Deciduous Hardy plants that loose their leaves in winter.
Perennial Hardy plant that persists for several years. Either subterranean bulbs or rhizomes, or hardy, aboveground wooden parts survive winter.
Rhizome Thick root that stores nutrients and water.

April 25, 2017


by Eva Waiblinger

Infernal spring trio: Lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis), wild garlic (Allium ursinum) and autumn crocus (Colchicum autumnale)

As kids, we were warned not to mistake wild garlic for lily of the valley, which is actually rather difficult to accomplish since both plants have their own peculiar odour. Early spring forests reek of garlic long before any lily sprouts! What might prove more fatal is confusing wild garlic with meadow saffron, also called autumn crocus. This bulb flowers only in autumn, so only its leaves are visible in spring and these also look rather similar to wild garlic ones, if not for the latter’s distinct odour. The nose is the best organ to prevent accidental poisoning in real life. In a crime novel, the trio of spring plants might give rise to an infernally devious murder plot.

April 15, 2017


by Eva Waiblinger

Daffodil (Narcissus pseudonarcissus)

Spring and Easter come clothed in the bright yellow of fluffy chicks and daffodils. While chicks are harmless, daffodils aren’t. You shouldn’t place daffodils into the same vase as other flowers, my grandmother always told me. It’s because they kill other plants. So if daffodils kill other plants with their toxic sap, couldn’t they be used as a means of murder in a crime novel?

February 10, 2017


by Eva Waiblinger

Revenge of the Nymph

February Daphne or Spurge Olive (Daphne mezereum). The spurge olive gets ist scientific name from the Greek nymph Daphne who tried to flee the philandering advances of an aroused god Apollon.

February 10, 2017


by Eva Waiblinger

Hellish Hellebore

Snow Rose or Black Hellebore (Helleborus niger). The Black Hellebore is named after the colour of its thick roots – also its most poisonous part. It is better known by its other name, “Snow or Christmas Rose”, because of the white flowers that bloom in the middle of winter (November to February).

Eva Waiblinger


Eva Waiblinger, MSc, PhD (Dr. sc. nat.), is a Swiss zoologist and science journalist as well as a member of the Swiss National Ethics Committee for Animal Experiments. She currently works as a Math and Biology teacher at a vocational school. Before that, she has been head of the companion animal welfare department of Swiss Animal Protection SAP for 12 years. She currently writes a biomedical thriller. The remainder of her leisure time is taken up by Goju Ryu karate and the all-female vocal ensemble Qtet she founded.