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10 spooky plants and garden ghouls; Getting in the Halloween spirit? Hannah Stephenson reveals some of the foul and creepy specimens that could be lurking in your hedges and borders...

Trick or treaters dressed as ghosts and ghouls may be on the prowl on your doorstep this Halloween - but step into your garden and you might find some spooky spikes, noxious nasties and creepy creepers.

Some plants can sting, burn, cut or emit an acrid, foulsmelling odour. Others have sinister-sounding names or connections with witches or the devil, while others are said to help ward off evil.

Get yourself into the mood for Halloween with this guide to horticultural horrors...

1 Eye-poppers When you see the spooky white berries with a single black spot emerging from red stems, you can understand why this sinister-looking plant is nicknamed the Doll's Eye (Actaea pachypoda). All parts of this herbaceous perennial are poisonous and when ingested can cause hallucinations.

2 Strangling suspects Also known as strangleweed, devil's guts, witches' shoelaces and devil's ringlet but better known as dodder (Cuscuta), this pernicious relative of bindweed twines itself round a host plant and inserts itself into the host's vascular system - sucking out everything it needs to live and killing its plant victim.

3 Prickly subjects Among the most prickly of plants is the hawthorn. As a thorny hedge, it will stab its thorns into your fingers, even when you're wearing the toughest gloves, and mature plants will even pierce the soles of gardening shoes.

Other prickly candidates include creeping juniper, common holly, firethorn (pyracantha), juniper and purple berberis.terrors Aconitum - also known as 4Toxic monkshood or wolfsbane - is among the most toxic of plants, with ingestion of even a small amount causing stomach upsets. It also slows the heart rate, which can prove fatal.

You don't just have to eat it to suffer. The poison can be absorbed through the skin, via open wounds, and there have even been reports of people feeling unwell after smelling the flowers.

5 Foul-smelling specimens There are the plants which smell like rotten corpses. The stinking iris, Iris foetidissima, for example, reeks. If you can stand the smell, or remain downwind from it, this bulb puts on a spectacular display in autumn and winter, when its gigantic seed pods burst open to reveal brilliant orange and sometimes red seeds.

6 Acrid arums The titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum), also known as the "corpse flower" as it smells like decomposed bodies when in flower, is nevertheless beautiful, growing up to 3m tall, its gigantic crimson flower spanning 3m, and is a great magnet for pollinating insects.

This acrid arum prefers the rainforests of Sumatra as its natural habitat, although you can admire at botanical gardens such as the Eden Project in Cornwall and at Kew, where it is flowering.

Others in the bad smells league include Eucomis bicolor, the pineapple lily, and the dead horse arum (Helicodiceros muscivorus), named for obvious reasons.

7 Ghostly apparitions The ghost plant (Monotropa uniflora), an eerie white specimen found in shady woods is a rare sight.

It has no chlorophyll, the chemical that allows plants to absorb energy from the sun and typically gives plants their green colour. In fact, the ghost plant is a parasite which sucks on fungi connected to a host plant, which is usually a nearby tree. The fungi acts as the middleman for the nutrients provided by the tree.

8 Bizarre bulbs While many bulbs bring heady fragrance, including the sweetly-scented hyacinth, others have horrible odours, including the imposing crown imperial (Fritillaria imperialis). But don't let the smell put you off too much, because its impressive orange flowers make more of a statement than its whiffy pong.

9 Poisonous potions No Halloween would be complete without its share of witches, whose potions have been linked with some of our most common plants.

Hemlock, for instance, is highly poisonous and closely linked with witchcraft. It doesn't look that different from the hedge parsley or cow parsley which grows along roads, ditches, trails or fields.

Its white flowerheads resemble those of parsnips, carrots or angelica, while the green leaves are deeply-cut, even feathery and delicate. Yet all plant parts are poisonous, with the seeds containing the highest concentration of poison, causing toxic reactions.

Deadly nightshade (Belladonna), another common plant often found in hedgerows, was one of the main ingredients in witches' brews during the Middle Ages, while blackthorn is often referred to as a witch's tree. As late as the 40s, anyone with a blackthorn walking stick was suspected of being a witch.

10Warding off evil Plants including rowan (Sorbus aucuparia), hazelnut (Corylus avellane) and elderberry (Sambucus nigra) were once thought to be "magical" trees and shrubs, which could ward off witches and evil spirits.

Ancient Celts believed rowan berries gave good health, and that if you planted them near grave sites, they would help the dead sleep.

People would use branches as dowsing rods and make crosses of rowan twigs to protect themselves on Halloween, while in old Europe, householders would put elderberry branches above their doorways to protect their homes from malevolent spirits. Strands of hazelnuts, worn or kept in the home ,were said to bring good luck.


DECEPTIVE... Iris foetidissima looks fab but smells bad

BRIGHT... Clockwise from left, the crown imperial, main, Doll's Eyes, ghost plant, hemlock and monkshood
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Oct 27, 2018
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