COURSE MANAGER, Chris Mitchell, comes across some unusual and sometimes downright scary sights on his travels round the two courses at Ashdown. These include four naked Dutch ladies of mature years cavorting in the reservoir but most recently he has encountered something that is even more daunting.
Hemlock water dropwort, Oenanthe crocata to the classicists amongst us, and most commonly know as Dead man’s finger is sprouting in some of the marshy places out on the course. It is the most toxic plant to both humans and animals growing in Britain today that can trigger spasmodic convulsions, usually followed by sudden death. In the dark ages, the plant was used in ritual killings, leaving the victim with a strange, paralysed smile on their face.
It is a large, stout plant some three to five feet high with that thrives in wet conditions, flowering in June and July, and is particularly common in the south of England. Its dark green leaves most closely resemble flat leaf parsley, which is what often attracts it to grazing animals particularly during hot summers when forage is in short supply.
All of it is poisonous, causing more fatalities than any other native British wild plant, but by far the most toxic part is the tubular root. A party of labourers working on a tow-path once dug up the plant and ate the roots thinking they were parsnips whilst another group, working in a field, thought that a few leaves would go down well with their bread and cheese. In both cases death occurred within three hours.
With permission required from the Environment Agency to spray the plant when it is near a watercourse, the Dead man’s finger will remain where it is for the time being before it dies back in the autumn.
Should a wayward shot take your ball anywhere near it or if you are simply out walking the dog, just remember do not be tempted to take any home to add to a summer salad. The paralytic properties of the hemlock might mean that you died with a smile on your face but it would still be a ghastly way to go!