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Council Advises Vigilance as Hemlock Water Dropwort Plant Washes up on Groomsport Beach

19th December 2021
The Hemlock Water-dropwort, also known as Dead Man's Fingers, is a flowering plant in the carrot family
The Hemlock Water-dropwort, also known as Dead Man's Fingers, is a flowering plant in the carrot family

Ards and North Down Council has warned the public that Hemlock Water Dropwort, also known as ‘Poisonous Parsnip’ has washed up on Groomsport beach where it was seen and reported by a member of the public. Groomsport is about two miles east of Bangor on the North Down coast of Belfast Lough and it is thought that the recent stormy weather and tidal surges may have uprooted the plants, washing them ashore. It, therefore, has the potential to be found on or close to other beaches in the Borough.

The Hemlock Water-dropwort, also known as Dead Man's Fingers, is a flowering plant in the carrot family, native to the British Isles, Western Europe, and the Iberian Peninsula. All parts of the plant are extremely toxic and have been implicated in several cases of livestock poisoning. It can reach a height of 1.5m.

The term sardonic grin perfectly illustrates the deadly effect this plant has. It comes from the grisly practice in Phoenician Sardinia of disposing of criminals and old people using Hemlock Water Dropwort. It is said that the poison acts by constricting the muscles causing death by asphyxia which also causes a rictus like death grin, the sardonic grin.

The Council warns ” We would urge the public to be vigilant when walking along the beach particularly with young children and dogs as the poisonous roots can prove lethal if ingested. If the public were to come across the plant, we would advise avoiding contact.

We would particularly advise dog owners to keep a close eye on their pets when walking along our shores, making sure they don't eat anything they shouldn't. If you think your dog may have ingested “poisonous parsnip” it is advised to seek veterinary advice as soon as possible”.

Betty Armstrong

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Betty Armstrong

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Betty Armstrong is Afloat and Yachting Life's Northern Ireland Correspondent. Betty grew up racing dinghies but now sails a more sedate Dehler 36 around County Down

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