MORE than 150 people in the southern states became ill after eating contaminated baby spinach late in 2022.
After extensive research into this contamination, it was found that a noxious weed called thornapple was responsible, which was inadvertently mixed with the spinach during picking of the crop.
But just what is this noxious invasive weed called thornapple?
There are a number of names for this weed, jimsonweed, devils snare and devils’ trumpet.
It come from the “solanaceae” family of plants which include toxic plants such as nightshade and belladonna, and kitchen staples like tomatoes and potatoes.
The thornapple was introduced in Australia in the 19th century as a garden plant and a leafy annual herb, growing to about 60cm in height and producing white flowers from summer to autumn, then dying.
An ABC article commented that it was used in the early days by chemists as a treatment for mania and epilepsy, the dangers being known for some time, with an 1873 newsletter from the ‘Adelaide philosophical society’ claiming that of all of the solanaceae family the thornapple was the most dangerous.
Every part of the plant is toxic to both humans and animals.
Hallucinations seemed to be the main cause this time with a range of other symptoms possible with children being particularly vulnerable.
The onset of symptoms can be quite rapid, usually within a few hours and sometime within 30 minutes.
In some cases, hospital care was required for those affected.
But how did it get into the spinach?
It is believed that the high rainfall last year had contributed to the spread of the weed which can produce up to 30,000 seeds and can live in the soil for 40 years.
The young thornapple leaves look like spinach and can be picked up when harvesting the crop.
Ipswich City Council have developed a book called “Invasive Weeds of Ipswich’ and a field guide to help residents identify noxious weeds.
Due to recent flooding many areas have new plants that spring up, some grow quite quickly, sometimes we would like to believe they are not a weed, but invariably they are.
Many plants listed in the book are plants you may have in your garden at home but they often become a problem in the wild.
Invasive weeds come in many forms, not all toxic, some covered in thorns, some with daisy like flowers or vines that strangle the natural vegetation.
Some plants are even sold in nurseries. In the wild they compete with the natural vegetation for space and light”.
As mentioned in a previous column there is an app that one can get on your mobile phone that allows you to take a photo of a particular plant and will advise the name and all relevant information for the plant.
Till next time.