Hemlock or Hemlock??

hemlock

I have never poisoned anyone. I’ve just learned that if I were to try, I would be very bad at it. The hemlock I thought was poisonous turns out to just have an unfortunate common name. And rather than brewing up a batch of tainted tonic, I would apparently make my intended victim an aromatic cup of tea loaded in Vitamin C.

While hiking around the Appalachians this weekend, I spied tons of hemlock trees. “What a great post for October… Hemlock!” I thought and pulled out my sketchbook.

Sketch done, I hopped online to find out just how the poisoner killed Socrates. Uh oh, wait… it’s a different Hemlock?

Evidently, the poisonous hemlock is a small plant related to a carrot. Not THIS hemlock (the Eastern Hemlock, Tsuga canadensis) which is a tree known for its wonderful aroma – a sweet, fruity pine-like scent. Oils from the leaves and twigs are condensed and sold for home sprays, perfumes and some homeopathic uses (often listed under a non-Hemlock name though).

Perhaps the Eastern Hemlock would benefit if it produced a little poison though. Small insects called Wooly Adelgids are munching their way through every Eastern Hemlock in the southern Appalachians. Researchers are concerned that, if a solution is not found, most of the Eastern Hemlocks in this region could be gone in the next decade.

Warts & All

American Toad (Bufo americanus)Double, double, toil and trouble;
Fire, burn; and cauldron, bubble.

Shakespeare’s witches open Macbeth by tossing a toad into their cauldron, along with parts of snakes, newts, bats and other dejected, unfortunate creatures. Why such a bad rap? After all, people LOVE frogs – they turn into princes, they have good tasting legs, and some cultures consider them lucky. But toads? Feared, reviled. What’s the big difference?

Toads tend to live in drier environments than frogs. In the frog’s aquatic environment, escape is just a hop away. For toads, though, warts are the key to survival. The two large “warts” on a toad, just behind the head, are glands that secrete a substance toxic to the toad’s predators.

Ay, there’s the rub – Toads are associated with poison. They actually produce three kinds of toxins: two affect the heart and one can produce hallucinations. Some cultures have used these chemicals for medical purposes. Perhaps those Shakespearean hags were just brewing up a treatment for edema.

Protect toads! While the American Toad is not threatened or endangered, many other populations of amphibians are experiencing sharp declines.

Learn more about the American Toad (Bufo americanus) and hear it call at http://www.herpsofnc.org/herps_of_NC/anurans/Bufame/Buf_ame.html