Science - Root and branch

17th February 2012 at 00:00
Ripping out `dangerous' plants is overkill

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 potatoes, the daffodils, the passion flower, hyacinths, tulips and rhubarb.

"What on earth has happened?" I asked. The answer was simple: 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.

Having worked with children and plants at the Bradford Community Environment Project for 16 years, I located the book and approached it with great interest. The author has obviously good intentions, attempting to provide clear and helpful information on plants in the garden, park, countryside or indoors. But it seems to me that the book has sparked panic.

The bulk of the content is given over to detailed descriptions of 132 potentially harmful plants. Dauncey never recommends removing these plants; indeed, she makes sensible suggestions about how they could be moved to less easily accessible areas, fenced in or pruned. This guidance, however, is buried in the small print and not made explicit in the body of the book. For childcare providers, it's enough to prompt drastic action to ensure they are keeping children safe.

But what message does this send to children? That they can eat anything they find in the now barren yard? After all, this could include soil, bird droppings, fungi or seeds blown in from elsewhere. Educators should be teaching children not to eat anything they find in the garden. And where does it lead? Should children not be allowed to go to the woods or the park because they may come into contact with one of these 132 "scary" plants? Many are everyday natives and are potentially harmful only if eaten or in extreme or unusual circumstances.

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.

Jane Robinson is a team leader at the Bradford Community Environment Project

What else?

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.

In the forums

Teachers discuss good plants to use for key stage 1 science experiments.

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