Dog owners warned to look out for poisonous plant

Dog owners have been warned to keep an eye out for a plant that could harm their pets - after a spate of deaths in Northern Ireland were linked to the hemlock plant.

The plant, often given the longer name of Hemlock Water Dropwort, contains alkaloids which attack the nervous system, which can cause breathing difficulties, paralysis and even death in domestic animals.

It's also harmful to humans, with its roots being the most toxic part.

A dog became ill and later died while out walking in Lough Neagh in County Antrim this month, with the animal's death thought to be possibly caused by exposure to the poisonous plant. Several other canine deaths have been reported in the area.

A damp spring is thought to have led to a bumper crop of the plant, which can grow in excess of five feet tall.

Hemlock has clusters of tiny white flowers on long stems with green leaves flecked with red marks.

Arguably the most infamous of poisonous plants, it was a recurring ingredient in Shakespearean potions and used in executions in Ancient Greece, most notably that of Socrates.

The plant is a member of the Apiaceae or Umbellifer family, and grows well in the UK and Northern Ireland climate.

There are concerns it is finding its way into people's gardens, who may mistake it for similar plants such as Cow Parsley, which is edible.

Hemlock's poison causes the plant to emit a foul smell, which botanists have compared to the odour of mouse urine.