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The Darker Side of Plants

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A series of 8 online talks exploring some of the darker aspects of plants on Tues @ 10 from May 11th £5 each or all 8 for £32.

About this Event

This new series of talks explores the Darker Side of Plants – the marvels, mysteries, and murderous nature of the plant world - from fact to fantasy and fiction.

This ticket costs £32 for the entire course of 8 sessions or you may purchase a ticket for individual sessions, costing £5 via the links below.

Attendees will be sent a Zoom link 2 days prior to the start of the talk, and again a few hours before the talk. A link to the recorded session (available for 1 week) will be sent shortly afterwards.

Week 1. May 11. Toxic Trees, Poisonous Perennials & Wicked Weeds: Part of a series of 8 online lectures, £5 each or all 8 for £32.

Week 2. May 18. The Underworld of Plants: Part of a series of 8 online lectures, £5 each or all 8 for £32.

Week 3. May 25. The Unexpected Role of Plants in Modern Medicine: Part of a series of 8 online lectures, £5 each or all 8 for £32.

Week 4. Jun 1. Chemical Warfare and co-operation in the Garden: Part of a series of 8 online lectures, £5 each or all 8 for £32.

Week 5. Jun 8. Plants hold Secrets - Silent Witnesses to Crime: Part of a series of 8 online lectures, £5 each or all 8 for £32.

Week 6. Jun 15. Malevolent Medicines: Part of a series of 8 online lectures, £5 each or all 8 for £32.

Week 7. Jun 22. Permission to Poison – The Alnwick Garden: Part of a series of 8 online lectures, £5 each or all 8 for £32.

Week 8. Jun 29. Poisonous Plants and Agatha Christie: Part of a series of 8 online lectures, £5 each or all 8 for £32.

Plants are full of surprises - they live in a parallel world to ours and have many hidden and strange facets. This series of talks uncovers plants for what they really can be - toxic, dangerous yet attractive, users of entrapment and carnivory, enticing and exotic yet not above using chemical warfare to defend their patch and themselves. Humans use them for healing and to deal out death, but also to help solve mysteries and as sources of creative (but dark) inspiration. Take a journey with us looking at specific aspects of plants: their chemicals, unusual lifestyles and interactions; and how we use (and have misused) them to discover new drugs, solve crimes, heal, commit murder and weave them into deadly gardens and fiction.

Our speakers are diverse, expert and passionate about their subject. They include a renowned and talented biologist who searches the world for plants that kill; trained chemists who have been won over by the world of plants and their mysterious secrets (and write award winning books); an internationally respected botanist who solves crimes using plants, and an author and international garden historian.


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Week 1. May 11: Toxic Trees, Poisonous Perennials and Wicked Weeds - Poisonous plants in your garden by Alison Foster

Plants contain powerful and dangerous poisons which have been used for millennia for deadly purposes. In fact, many of the garden plants we commonly grow are poisonous or toxic in some way. Gardeners are, usually, far more concerned about accidental poisoning or adverse reactions. Alison will reveal the chemistry behind the toxic nature of a range of common garden plants, what is present in them and which parts are particularly poisonous. With a little knowledge and common sense, you can decide what definitely to avoid, and what to grow safely to enjoy their aesthetic. You may not be surprised at some of the plants, but Alison may reveal some which will cause an eyebrow or two to be raised!

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After her PhD in Chemistry and working 8 years in the pharmaceutical Industry, Alison’s passion for plants finally got the better of her. She retrained as a horticulturist and then joined the University of Oxford Botanic Garden ultimately becoming Acting Director. Her aim was to bring science into the garden with a particular focus on chemistry and medicinal plants. She combines her client work in practical horticulture and consultancy with teaching Botanical Foundations of Ethnobotany at the University of Kent and spreading the word about the importance of plants and chemistry as far and wide as possible. She recently developed a new science garden for The Society of Chemical Industry in Belgrave Square, London and interpretation content for the Temperate House at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.


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Week 2. May 18: The Underworld of Plants by Chris Thorogood

This lecture follows the journey of a plant hunter and illustrator who has painted his way around the globe, depicting the underworld of plants: a world in which plants kidnap, steal and kill! The plant kingdom is replete with intriguing forms and structures which have long inspired botanists and botanical illustrators. Chris will recount the challenges of his adventures as a botanist, how he has sought to conjure up these strange plants on canvas, and insights into the research that is done on them at the University of Oxford Botanic Garden

...…

Dr Chris Thorogood is the Deputy Director and Head of Science of the University of Oxford Botanic Garden and Arboretum, and a lecturer in biology at the University of Oxford’s Department of Plant Sciences. Chris’s research focusses on the evolution of parasitic and carnivorous plants, conservation of parasitic plants, plant diversity in the Mediterranean Basin and Japan, and the biomimetic applications of plants. Chris is an ambassador for public engagement with plant sciences and is a panellist for BBC Radio 4’s Gardeners’ Question Time. Chris is a wildlife artist, botanical illustrator, and an international best-selling author of specialist field guides and popular titles.


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Week 3. May 25: The (Unexpected) Role of Plants in Modern Medicine by Alison Foster

You may be familiar with (and use) a number of medicines or drugs which come directly from plants or are synthesised forms of the plant chemicals. Did you realise how important plants still are as source of our medicines?

Alison will take us on an intriguing tour exploring many of the plant derived conventional medicines we use. She will delve deeper into, seemingly, well known medicinal stories and bring to light the unexpected roles that plants play in the development of others.

Advancements in synthetic chemistry may have revolutionised drug development, but plants are always coming up with surprises

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After her PhD in Chemistry and working 8 years in the pharmaceutical Industry, Alison’s passion for plants finally got the better of her. She retrained as a horticulturist and then joined the University of Oxford Botanic Garden ultimately becoming Acting Director. Her aim was to bring science into the garden with a particular focus on chemistry and medicinal plants. She combines her client work in practical horticulture and consultancy with teaching Botanical Foundations of Ethnobotany at the University of Kent and spreading the word about the importance of plants and chemistry as far and wide as possible. She recently developed a new science garden for The Society of Chemical Industry in Belgrave Square, London and interpretation content for the Temperate House at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.


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Week 4. Jun 1: Chemical Warfare (and Co-operation) in the Garden by Gwenda Kyd

Plants have limited scope for movement and use chemical compounds to interact and communicate with the world around them. Gwenda will lift the lid on these interactions and reveal how plants deter others from encroaching on their own 'personal' space and how they also seem to share information for their mutual benefit.

Plants sometimes need outside help to survive and prosper – Gwenda will explore how plants attract the ‘right sort of attention’ whilst discouraging and protecting themselves against the attention of predators. Along the way we will look at how much we really know about the roles of each chemical compound and finally how we, as humans, interact with the world of plants

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Dr Gwenda Kyd is a chemist, writer and public speaker. Although she is the great-granddaughter of a professional gardener, her interest in plants came through science – what lies behind the use of medicinal plants? Studying herbal medicine developed into a fascination with the traditional uses and folklore surrounding the plants in our lives. She is now an avid collector of stories about plants, covering recent science but also the more traditional or quirky. She has published two books Molecules, Medicines and Mischief and The Plants of Dr Bach.


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Week 5. Jun 8: Plants hold Secrets - Silent Witnesses to Crime and Murder by Mark Spencer

Plants are silent witnesses to crimes. Mark will take you to woodlands, derelict land and roadside verges. He will show how botanical science can help identify a suspect or locate a victim; how seemingly mundane plants such as brambles and nettles can help cast a light on when and where a crime was committed; how fragments of plants embedded in soil on footwear can implicate a suspect; and how to distinguish between a modern clandestine burial and an innocent medieval feature.

Forensic botany has been used for many decades to help solve crimes and murder. Back in the 1930s it was used to help unravel the infamous, tragic kidnapping and murder of the infant son of aviator Charles Lindbergh, and yet it is still front and centre in solving modern-day crimes

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Dr Mark Spencer is an experienced and internationally respected botanist. He is a consultant forensic botanist, author, public speaker and occasional radio and TV ‘personality’.

His fascination with plants started as a small boy. He was originally a horticulturalist and then studied botany at university followed by a PhD on plant pathogenic fungi. Mark was a field botanist working in conservation, then for 12 years as a Botany Curator at the Natural History Museum, London.

He retains a strong interest in the history of botany and botanic gardens, invasive non-native species and the flora of North-West Europe. As a forensic botanist, Mark has worked on various missing person enquiries, murders and other serious crimes.


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Week 6. Jun 15: Malevolent Medicines by Kathryn Harkup

Attitudes to human health have changed a lot over the centuries but plants have always been central to medicine. Kathryn will explore how some plants have been exploited for medicinal use - though not always to the benefit of the patient.

As Paracelsus wrote ‘All things are poisons, for there is nothing without poisonous qualities. It is only the dose which makes a thing poison.’ …..One man's medicine is another man's poison.

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Kathryn is a chemist and author. She completed a doctorate on her favourite chemicals, phosphines, and went on to further research before realising that talking, writing and demonstrating science appealed more than hours in the lab. She writes and gives regular public talks on the disgusting and dangerous side of science.

Kathryn’s first book was the international best-seller A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie. She has also written Making the Monster: The Science of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Her third book, Death by Shakespeare: Snakebites, Stabbings and Broken Hearts is out now.


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Week 7. Jun 22: Permission to poison – The Alnwick Garden by Caroline Holmes

The Alnwick Garden was inspired by Jane Northumberland with Wirtz International as designers in the 1990s, it showcases traditional and cutting edge designs. Green leaves serve many potent functions, some sound perilous, but who would have thought of lettuces and Traveller’s Joy as harbingers of dangerous intoxication. At the base of the Great Cascade, fenced, walled and gated, lies The Poison Garden where Caroline was commissioned to devise a fatal attraction of plants. After briefly setting the scene, we will focus on the living poisons behind the ornate inner gates.

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Caroline Holmes devised the plantings, wrote the guide notes and gardeners’ safety notes for The Poison Garden within The Alnwick Garden in Northumberland. She is a Course Director for University of Cambridge ICE; this year’s Virtual Festival of Summer Learning includes the study week Fatal Attraction – the darker side of plants. Her 12th book Where the wildness pleases – the English garden celebrated has just been published. She has authored 12 books, including Why do violets shrink? Answers to 280 Thorny Questions on the World of Plants which has several dangerous entries.


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Week 8. Jun 29: Poisonous plants and Agatha Christie by Kathryn Harkup

Agatha Christie is well known for her brilliant whodunnits full of meticulous plotting and scientific accuracy. The Queen of Crime was also a keen gardener and combined her extensive knowledge of toxicology and passion for plants in several of her murder mystery plots. She was well versed in the subtle art of poisoning and the toxic effects of the poisons used. This talk looks at some of those plants and their poisons. Just because it's fiction doesn't mean it's made up

.…..

Kathryn is a chemist and author. She completed a doctorate on her favourite chemicals, phosphines, and went on to further research before realising that talking, writing and demonstrating science appealed more than hours in the lab. She writes and gives regular public talks on the disgusting and dangerous side of science.

Kathryn’s first book was the international best-seller A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie. She has also written Making the Monster: The Science of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Her third book, Death by Shakespeare: Snakebites, Stabbings and Broken Hearts is out now.

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