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Science - Roots and branches

What's it all about?

Talking to a colleague from a children's centre in Bradford recently, I was horrified to hear that they had rendered their flourishing garden almost utterly barren by ripping out dozens of plants. Gone were the potatotoes, the daffodils, the passion flower, hyacinths, tulips and rhubarb, writes Jane Robinson.

The manager had read a new book, Poisonous Plants: a guide for childcare providers by Dr Elizabeth A. Dauncey, and instructed the gardener to remove every plant it featured.

The author has obviously good intentions, attempting to provide clear and helpful information on plants in the garden, park, countryside or indoors. The bulk of the content is given over to detailed descriptions of 132 potentially harmful plants. Indeed, Dauncey never recommends removing these plants; she makes sensible suggestions about how they could be moved to less easily accessible areas, fenced in or pruned. But this guidance is buried in the small print.

Educators should be teaching children not to eat anything they find in the garden. No one wants to stop them going to the woods or the park because they may come into contact with one of these 132 "scary" plants.

Dauncey defends her book by saying that it does not recommend the removal of plants. But she needed to make it clear that risk assessment is about managing risk, not removing it.

Taking it further

Help your pupils learn to love plants with Miss AFS's "Growing Plants" PowerPoint.

Make sure pupils know what parts of a plant to eat with a handy wall display from solmerino.

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