Poisonous Plants and Fungi in Britain and Ireland

Identification Systems

Produced by Nightshade® - a joint initiative between the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and the Medical Toxicology Unit, Guy's & St Thomas' Hospital Trust.

Poisonous plants and fungi are all around us - in our homes and gardens, and in the countryside - yet many of us do not know which plants and fungi are poisonous or how poisonous they are.

Who needs to know how poisonous a plant or fungus is?

Knowing the toxicity of a plant or fungus is essential in various walks of life, for example:

  • nurses or doctors treating a suspected poisoning case;
  • parents, teachers or local authority workers wanting to provide a safe environment for children to play and learn in; or
  • people who enjoy foraging food from the countryside who want to eat plants and fungi safely.

Why is it important to correctly identify a plant or fungus?

The name of a plant or fungus is the key to finding out just how poisonous it is. However, the identification of poisonous plants and fungi can be difficult: different plants or fungi can look similar to each other; some species are very variable in appearance; and plants which are easily recognised when in flower are not so identifiable at other times of the year.  In addition to this, communication of plant names can be misleading as common names are not used consistently, for example:

The name "deadly nightshade" has been adopted for a number of different plants including the traditional deadly nightshade, Atropa belladonna. In a recent survey of suspected plant poisoning cases, 10 cases were attributed to "deadly nightshade" by the hospitals involved.  However, when Kew specialists identified specimens they determined that five of these cases had actually involved Solanum nigrum (black nightshade) and two specimens were of Solanum dulcamara (woody nightshade). The toxins in both these species of Solanum are glycoalkaloids such as solanine which have a different toxic action to the tropane alkaloids of Atropa belladonna.  The other three specimens were of species which also have a different toxicity to Atropa belladonna. Two were of Hypericum androsaemum (tutsan), a plant of only low toxicity, and 1 was of Arum italicum (Italian lords-and-ladies), which contains calcium oxalate.

How can you identify poisonous plants and fungi, and find out how toxic they are?

In 1995, Nightshade® published its award-winning CD-ROM 'Poisonous Plants in Britain and Ireland'. Following the success of this innovative software, a second edition of the CD-ROM, now including fungi, was published in September 2000. A version for the poisonous plants of Germany, Die Giftpflanzen Deutschlands, has been developed in collaboration with the Berlin Poisons Centre.

'Poisonous Plants and Fungi in Britain and Ireland' includes two identification systems on one CD-ROM. 'Poisonous Plants...' is a fast, easy and accurate computer method of identifying 229 plants which are either poisonous or are commonly thought to be so. 'Poisonous Fungi...' covers more than 120 groups of fungi including a number of common non-toxic and edible species.

Identifications are quickly and easily achieved by answering simple questions about the plant or fungus that you wish to identify. If you are unsure how to answer a question you can "skip" it, and at any time you can "review" and change your answers. The answer that you give is used to reduce the number of remaining suspects, and the next best question is offered. When five or fewer suspects remain, photographic images of the plants or fungi can be called upon to visually complete and confirm your identification.

Key features

  • No previous botanical or mycological knowledge is necessary;
  • Clear interface and mouse control making the software easy to use;
  • Simple non-technical questions using many illustrations;
  • Comprehensive list of common names and synonyms;
  • For each plant and fungus there is:
    • toxicity information, including clinical features, toxicology, and a full bibliography;
    • up to six (more for complex groups) photographic images including close-ups of important features; and
    • a detailed description.

Product specification

'Poisonous Plants and Fungi in Britain and Ireland' on CD-ROM
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and Medical Toxicology Unit, Guy's & St Thomas' Hospital Trust. Published September 2000.
price (excl. p&p): £39.95
Editor: Elizabeth A. Dauncey
Botany: Timothy G. J. Rayner
Mycology: Deborah A. Shah-Smith
Toxicity Monographs: Nicola S. Bates and others from the Poisons Information Service of the Medical Toxicology Unit
Toxicity Editors: Nicola S. Bates, Richard Bogle, Margot Nicholls and S. Frances Northall
Consultant Toxicologist: Virginia S. G. Murray
Additional Editing: Marion R. Cooper, J. Nicholas Edwards, Anthony W. Johnson, David N. Pegler, Hew D. V. Prendergast, Peter J. Roberts, Brian M. Spooner and Joanna H. Tempowski
Software: Mark Jackson, Harley Quilliam and System Simulation Ltd

Hardware requirements

Windows 95, 98, 2000 or NT 4.0
4x CD-ROM drive
16 Mb RAM
A screen set to display at least 256 colours and small fonts

To order, or for further information about the CD-ROM, please send your name and contact details to:

Scientific Publishing Sales
Sir Joseph Banks Building
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
Surrey TW9 3AE

Tel: +44 (0) 20 8332 5219
Fax: +44 (0) 20 8332 5646

The CD-ROM can also be ordered from: