Monday, September 26, 2016

The Alnwick Poison Gardens

Alnwick Gardens
Photo by xlibber

The Alnwick Gardens are a group of public gardens attached to Alnwick Castle in Northumberland. The castle itself is the second largest in Great Britain. One of the gardens that helps make up the Alnwick Gardens is the Alnwick Poison Garden. This garden boasts some of the world's most dangerous plants, hence the name.

The history of the Alnwick Gardens goes back to 1750. The modern gardens were designed after a long period of neglect. The current Duchess of Northumberland decided to revamp the gardens when she became mistress of Alnwick Castle. The project began around 2000, but she did not begin the Poison Garden until five years later. The Duchess wanted a garden that was filled with narcotic, poisonous and deadly plants. The initial design included some medicinal plants, but she had them removed to maintain the concept of the Poison Garden.

The Duchess of Northumberland had father and son garden designers Jacques and Peter Wirtz design the modern Alnwick Gardens. Besides the Poison Garden, there is the Rose Garden, the Tree House, the Serpent Garden, the Ornamental Garden, the Bamboo Labyrinth and more. The Poison Garden has arguably the most socially significant purpose of all the Alnwick Gardens. Guests who visit the Alnwick Poison Garden are led by guides who teach them about the plants and about drug abuse prevention. The drug abuse prevention message stems from the plants that reside in the Poison Garden.

The plants that grow in the Alnwick Poison Garden could be used to make an array of illegal narcotics. There are poppies, which are used to make opium. There is Atropa belladonna, also known as deadly nightshade, which is famous for its use as a poison. Belladonna is also a hallucinogenic. Cocoa also grows in the Poison Garden. Cocoa sounds like a lovely plant, but it is actually used to make cocaine. Strychnos nux-vomica is another deadly plant, which is used to make strychnine. Also included are hemlock, cannabis and more.

The Poison Garden at Alnwick Gardens is on around the clock surveillance for the safety of the public and would-be thieves. Some of the plants are even kept in specially fenced areas to avoid accidental poisoning or theft of the plants for use in making narcotics. The message at the Poison Garden is anti-drug, so it is of the utmost importance that the plants there be used to educate the public, not harm people.


Alnwick Garden, retrieved 12/2/10

Monday, September 12, 2016

See a Night Sky Underground at New Zealand's Glowworm Caves

Intricate sign at the caves
Photo by A.Aruninta

The Glowworm Caves, or the Waitomo Caves, are amazing natural wonders located in Waitomo on North Island in New Zealand. There is a series of them with millions of glowing larvae, pupae and bugs populating their ceilings. Visitors liken the effect of these glowing creatures to that of a particularly starry night sky. In some spots, you can see glowing dots on strands that hang from above, almost like icicle Christmas lights.

The little bugs, larvae and pupae that are responsible for the decor of the Glowworm Caves are known Arachnocampa luminosa, New Zealand fungus gnats or, less commonly, glowing spider bugs. These bugs go through four basic life stages. They begin as eggs, which hatch to become larvae (during which time they molt four times), which in turn pupate. Then comes the adult. New Zealand fungus gnats begin glowing when they reach the larval stage of their development.

Arachnocampa luminosa larvae spend their days hiding in cracks and crevices in the Glowworm Caves. At night, they come out and hide in little silk tunnels they have constructed. These silk tunnels are for catching prey. They are also used as a dwelling of sorts during the pupal stage of their development. New Zealand fungus gnats spend about three weeks as eggs, six to twelve months as larvae and about twelve days as pupae. Adults come out of the pupal stage unable to eat. They have no mouths. They will only survive long enough to procreate. For the male Arachnocampa luminosa, this will be between three and five days. The female will only survive one or two days. After laying her eggs, she will sometimes stop glowing, always dying shortly thereafter.

There is no shortage of New Zealand fungus gnats in New Zealand. However, the Glowworm Caves are the most popular places to view these bioluminescent bugs. The darkness of the caves makes them a perfect place to witness the glow of the Arachnocampa luminosa.

There are literally hundreds of guided tours available for visitors to the Glowworm Caves. The caves may be entered on foot or via the Waitomo River in a raft or canoe.


New Zealand Fungus Gnat (NZ Glowworm), retrieved 9/12/16