Plants that poison - Lupins line the roads in the Mackenzie in South Canterbury, N.Z. around Christmas time -  invasive but attractive.

Lake Pukaki with Mt. Cook in the background. Nov. 2011.
From the bottom end of Lake Pukaki outlook. That is Mt Cook forty miles away. Visibility is outstanding. A great place to be.

In New Zealand, where it is known as the Russell lupin (Lupinus polyphyllus) a perennial legume plant with long colourful flower heads is commonly seen throughout the Mackenzie, is an aggressive introduced frost tolerant weed classed as an invasive species and covers areas next to roadsides, pastures and riverbeds especially in the Canterbury region. Refrain from planting lupin seeds close to riverbeds and avoid transporting seed heads. It is documented as being first naturalised in 1958 and it has been suggested that tour bus drivers deliberately spread seeds of the plant to promote colourful roadside vegetation.

Lake Tekapo ahead with Mt. John to the left. 25 Dec. 2011. 
 Lupins line the roads in the Mackenzie around Christmas time. Lake Tekapo in front with Mt. John.

Bluestone cottage garden, Timaru, Nov. 2011
Lupins in a cottage garden. Foxglove is one of the prettiest plants in a cottage garden and around the lifestyle block. But it has a dark side that makes it undesirable to have on your property - it's poisonous. In fact, it's downright sinister. Broom is a pest plant found along roadsides and in paddocks and all parts are toxic. Lupin is the same, but the toxins are particularly found in the pods and seeds. Rhubarb leaves are poisonous to hens.

Ashbury Park, Timaru Nov. 2009.
 Lupins wind blown by a southerly that had just come in. Asbury Park in the background.

Auckland Star, 20 July 1937, Page 5
London, June. At the age of 80 George Russell has sold to the world the thing he made and loved. The price he received is fame. The price he paid his heartbreak. The firm that bought them from him and is to commercialise them has a field of more than 150,000 plants, and except for a few rows of pure-bred ones there are no two exactly alike in colour and formation. His are to be issued as "Russell lupins." But the old man sits in his cottage in York mourning. Ever since he was a boy George Russell has been a gardener. He loved his work passionately and his only hobby was gardening. Twenty-five years ago he saw a display of old-fashioned blue and white lupins that stirred his imagination. He wrote to every country in the world that grows lupins, for seed. He has no garden, but he has two allotments. When he was 60 years old he started a life's work on those two allotments. He grew lupins, crossing and selecting them with a knowledge— or an instinct—that has never been approached and that seems to other lupin growers miraculous. By 1925 his allotments had become a show place. In June when the lupins were out there were crowds around his fence from morning to night. Hundreds of people asked him to sell them a plant. "No, I won't," he said brusquely. "You can look. But you can't buy." He gave up his regular post as a private gardener and took up jobbing gardening at 10/ a day so that be would have more freedom to look after his lupins. He did what no one had been able to do before, produced lupins with a straight-backed standard. Then he produced bi-coloured lupins, flowers with two distinct colours. Next came the dwarf lupin, standing twelve to fifteen inches, and giving about twelve straight, thick spikes. Then one day came a man who began like all the others, talking money. He realised his mistake quickly and talked a different way. Mr. James Baker, of Bakers of Codsail, is himself a lupin fanatic. '"You are being selfish," he said to the old man. "You are keeping all this, beauty to yourself instead of sharing it with other people who love flowers." "They can come and look." said the old man, but he was on the defensive for the first time. "You're nearly eighty," said Mr. Baker. "What's going to happen when you die? Your flowers will die with you and be lost to the world." "I've seen to that." said George. "I've trained the boy to my ways. He'll have them when I die, and he can I go on." The boy is "Sonny" Heath. When he was a child he contracted a form of paralysis, and the doctors gave him up. George Russell saved his life, carrying him on his back for days. Then he dedicated that life to lupins. Mr. Baker went home and spent three sleepless nights before the wire came '"Yes." Russell sold every plant in his allotments. Mr. Baker tried to persuade him to keep a few. "No," said George Russell. "It wouldn't be right. You've paid me for them. You're going to put them on the market as Russell lupins. It wouldn't be right for me to go on growing them." Twenty years of his life were taken away in an hour or two, and he stood in his empty allotments. One condition he insisted on. The boy must go with the lupins. And so, by the fine integrity of his character, be was left with nothing. The next year 1936 he went to Codsail to do the selecting. The garden staff and Mr. Baker stood gasping with alarm as they watched him and the boy throwing out hundreds. He never paused for a moment, but knew instantaneously which should be thrown away and which kept. Out of 5000 plants he left them 800.

25 Dec. 2011. First view of Mt. Cook. 
Samuel Butler described the peak in 1860. "It rose towering in a massy parallelogram, far above all the others. It is well worth any amount of climbing to see. No one can mistake it. The moment it comes into sight the exclamation is, 'That is Mount Cook!' -not 'That must be Mount Cook!' "

More lupins at Tekapo. 26 Dec. 2011. "I can't imagine a prettier sight." 

Rangitata lupins, Nov. 2011

Ashburton Guardian, 8 January 1921, Page 5 Back and Beyond
To anyone who is genuinely fond of health, strength, and fresh air a long tramp, "humping the bluey," appeals strongly. And what tramp could be more pleasant than one among the tremendous monuments of earth, the mountains? New Zealand undoubtedly contains mountains and mountain scenes among the finest in the world.

Soil enhancer - animal feed

Once they are established and have their own seed source in the ground they are able to re-generate despite a drought or over-grazing. The plant can also grow up to 1.5 meters tall. Can be used as fodder for stock. The feed is high in protein, nitrogen and sulphur and alkaloids. After the first three years of careful grazing the lupins become a very hardy dominant forage species that require a demand for sulphur. Once grazed the lupins or the tops knocked off with harrows after they have flowered at Christmas and can quickly re-grow again to flower twice in a growing season.

Lupin poisoning

Lupin poisoning can be fatal. Toxins are particularly found in the pods and seeds. Both sweet and bitter lupins in feed can cause livestock poisoning. A warning was published in the Medical Journal of Australia in 2009 about the dangers of selling and eating products containing bitter lupins that have not been appropriately treated to remove toxic alkaloids.  Lupin is used in food production today, most often in bakery products e.g. as thickener, ground into flour as source of protein to lower its rating on the glycemic index and in sausages to reduce fat and in vegan sausages. Lupin sensitization is often seen among patients with reactions to legumes and the number of reports describing lupin anaphylaxis is increasing. 30% peanut allergy patients also react to lupin. Three cases of anaphylaxis to lupin presented to JMA in 2004, none allergic to peanuts. I remember years ago on Sherwood we had lupins in the old orchard my sister would walk in there and come out in hives. 

Rangitata lupins, Nov.2011. Terrain of Rohan with Edoras in the riverbed - Lord of the RIngs.

Tuted

Toot: Tutu. A scrub, Coriaria ruscifolia, Linn., or C, sarmentosa, Forst., with shiny leaves and attractive reddish-pink berries. "Beware of Toot".  Sheep and calves die from eating the seeds, they often go for straight to water and are found dead near water. Even honey is dangerous. In Maori the final u is silent. In English names derived from the Maori, a vowel after a mute letter is not sounded.  The seeds, which are poisonous, with an action similar to that of strychnine. In Maori, the verb tutu means to be hit, wounded or vehemently wild. Austral English: A Dictionary of Australasian Words, Phrases and Usages with ... - Page 486 by Edward Ellis Morris - 1898 - 525 pages

A First Year in Canterbury Settlement by Butler, 1863
The tutu not having yet begun to spring, I yarded my bullocks at Main's. This demands explanation. Tutu is a plant which dies away in the winter, and shoots up anew from the old roots in spring, growing from six inches to two or three feet in height, sometimes even to five or six. It is of a rich green colour, and presents, at a little distance, something the appearance of myrtle. On its first coming above the ground it resembles asparagus. I have seen three varieties of it, though I am not sure whether two of them may not be the same, varied somewhat by soil and position. The third grows only in high situations, and is unknown upon the plains; it has leaves very minutely subdivided, and looks like a fern, but the blossom and seed are nearly identical with the other varieties. The peculiar property of the plant is, that, though highly nutritious both for sheep and cattle when eaten upon a tolerably full stomach, it is very fatal upon an empty one. Sheep and cattle eat it to any extent, and with perfect safety, when running loose on their pasture, because they are then always pretty full; but take the same sheep and yard them for some few hours, or drive them so that they cannot feed, then turn them into tutu, and the result is that they are immediately attacked with apoplectic symptoms, and die unless promptly bled. Nor does bleeding by any means always save them. The worst of it is, that when empty they are keenest after it, and nab it in spite of one's most frantic appeals, both verbal and flagellatory. Some say that tutu acts like clover, and blows out the stomach, so that death ensues. The seed-stones, however, contained in the dark pulpy berry, are poisonous to man, and superinduce apoplectic symptoms. The berry (about the size of a small currant) is rather good, though (like all the New Zealand berries) insipid, and is quite harmless if the stones are not swallowed. Tutu grows chiefly on and in the neighbourhood of sandy river-beds, but occurs more or less all over the settlement, and causes considerable damage every year. Horses won't touch it. As, then, my bullocks could not get tuted on being turned out empty, I yarded them.

The animals brought by Captain Cook in both his voyages died in what to him was an unaccountable manner, but, as Lauder Lindsay has pointed out, the general description of the symptoms leaves little doubt that they died of tutu poisoning."

Nelson Examiner and New Zealand 1 February 1851
Port Lyttelton, Dec. 16, 1850. ...Of the five cows landed from the ships, three have died, Mr. Brittan's by falling over the cliff, Mr. Fitzgerald's and Mr. Phillips's by eating tutu. All these are a great loss to the colony, especially the two former, which were pure Durham cows. Mr. Fitzgerald's was from Mr. Bland's farm in Surrey, and had won prizes both as a calf and as a cow. It is impossible to take too much care in landing cattle at this place. To beasts just out of a ship, the tutu, of which there is abundance here, is certainly fatal.

Otago Witness Oct. 12 1861 page 5
We regret to announce the death of a child, the evening before last, which is reported to have been caused by his eating the young leaves of a shrub called "toot," or "tutu"; his sister, about 7 years of age, was attacked the same day and for a considerable time was dangerously ill. The shrub is fatal not only to man, but to cattle and sheep, being more deadly at some periods than others.

Otago Witness 19 October 1861, Page 5
Death. At Springbank, East Taieri, on Monday, the 14th instant, youngest son of Mr James Todd, Farmer, aged 14 months.

Otago Witness 9 November 1861, Page 5 Deaths
At Springbank, East Taieri, on Saturday, 17th ult., Isabella Galbraith Todd, aged 4 years and 9 months.
On Monday the 21st ult., Jane Todd, aged 6 years and 4 months.

Otago Witness Saturday February 22 1862 page 5
An inquest was held on Monday, at the West Taieri, on the body of a Frenchman, named Rigan, who had died at the back of Maungatua, on Wednesday last, from the effects of eating tutu. George Wilson also a native from France disposed that on Wednesday he, two other men, and the deceased were on their way to the diggings by the West Taieri Road. They camped that night on the face of Manugatua and after pitching the tent, witness and deceased went down the side of the Hill and gathered some branches of the Tutu and brought them up to the tent where they all tasted them. When the witness had eaten sufficient he retuned to the tent leaving the deceased still eating the fruit. He remained about five minutes after the witness, and shortly afterwards he complained of a swimming in his head. He then lay down and in a few minutes afterwards fell into a fit. The witness himself was taken ill and vomited a great deal. The doctor, Dr. James Shirley, came the next morning and the deceased was dead. Daniel Soaarez, another of the mates, corroborated the statements and had known the Frenchman for about eight years and had been with him both in California and Australia. No one had ever told him that Tutu was poisonous, or none of them would have eaten it. He had not seen any posters warning parties. The deceased did not vomit at all. The deceased eyeballs were dilated as if from the effects of narcotic irritant poison. After the hearing the following verdict was returned "That the deceased died from the effects of eating the tutu plant." the jury also requested the Coroner to present a petition to the government praying them to take such necessary steps as would warn strangers coming into the colony of the poisonous nature of the tutu plant, the berries of which already caused serious illness to nine persons in the West Taieri district within the last nine weeks, one of which has proved fatal.

Timaru Herald, 2 May 1868, Page 5
On Sunday the 19th ultimo, an elephant which was travelling overland with its keeper from Oamaru to Timaru was killed at the Waitaki very suddenly by eating tutu. From what we can learn the elephant had been exhibited in the Otago province, and the owner arrived with it at the Waitaki about mid-day, intending to cross the river the same evening. For some reason the man was unable to cross the elephant, and had therefore to turn it lose. Soon after being turned out it eat heartily of tutu and died in less than three hours.

Otago Witness, 2 January 1901, Page 7  Re Tutu.
Tutu was only harmful to cattle and sheep - if I except an elephant which was killed by it on the Waitaki about the year 1860 (sic). Still, I have no doubt that if any animal was inoculated with the poison it would have a bad effect, but not if eaten as food, except under the circumstances mentioned. A small mob might be lying camped on a warm day and seemingly quite well, but on being moved suddenly one or two would often single out and stagger about or stand grinding their teeth, an invariable sign of their being affected, but if caught and bled soon came right. The bleeding was generally done in the face or upper part of the mouth, which at once relieved the brain, which seemed to be the part most affected. The young shoots were the most dangerous to cattle, and only the seeds to human beings.
A much more poisonous plant than tutu was the wild, or, as it was called, the native onion, rarely seen now, I believe, which grew in some districts where the land was very good. Winchester, in Canterbury, was one of them, where I have seen many sheep from the flocks of Mr Alfred Cox lying dead, the appearance after death clearly showing the cause of death. I am, etc., Jas. G. Thomson - an old stock owner  with his brothers (1854) on the Halswell River near Christchurch.

Dr Ramsey from the Philip Laing was the first to warn of poisonous nature of tutu berries.

The animals brought by Captain Cook in both his voyages died in what to him was an unaccountable manner, but, the general description of the symptoms leaves little doubt that they died of tutu poisoning.

Otago Witness 25 January 1900, Page 67 NOTES BY THE WAYSIDE. By Geo. M. Thomson, F.L.S.
The magnificent floral display of the broom and the gorse during the last month, the great promise of flowers on the elder, and the exuberant luxuriance of cocksfoot and other introduced grasses in the recent moist, mild weather, show what a remarkable hold these immigrants have taken of their new home. I was on the look-out for tutu the other morning, and noticed how scarce it is becoming in localities where only a few years ago it was one of the most abundant of the native shrubs. Some native plants are more than holding their own in the Town Belt, such as the fuchsia, wild bramble or lawyer, and the common climber Muhlenbeckia. This is in part due to the fact that they have succulent fruits which are eaten by blackbirds and thrushes, and so have their seeds distributed in the same way as happens with the elder berries, and partly, at least as regards the two latter, on account of their vigorous growth as climbers, for they scramble ever other plants and seek to monopolise their light. The tutu also has succulent and attractive fruit which we might expect to be scattered in the same way as the others named, yet it is not increasing. Perhaps the fact of its growing near the edge of the bush, where futile attempts are made from time to time to eradicate gorse and broom by burning, may account for its disappearance from many localities, for it is a somewhat easily destroyed plant.

Twenty years ago there were various other plants besides tutu to be found in our Town Belt, which are very difficult to find now owing to the spread of the introduced plants. The common little orchid Corysanthes, and the curious grayish-green Gastro-dia have disappeared from many of their old haunts; the curious moonwort (Botrychium cicutarium) and the little adder's torque fern (Ophioglossum) are things of the past while the liliaceous Dianella with its little nodding flowers followed in autumn by dark blue berries is among the missing. These and many others are not rare plants, for they can be met with in abundance by going a little further afield, but they have disappeared from spots in the Town Belt where formerly they could always be found they have been crowded out of existence by stronger and more aggressive species.

The tutu (Coriariá) is a plant with many peculiar characters and points of interest. It is evidently of great antiquity, as evidenced by its own distribution and that of its genus. Three species of Coriaria are recognised as occurring in New Zealand, and all of them occur in the neighbourhood of Dunedin. The common perennial shrubby form C. rascifolia grows near the edge of the bush right .down to sea level; the other two C. thymifolio (the thyme-leaved form) and O. angustissima are only found at or above 2000 ft. They are much smaller than the common shrubby species, more blender and delicate in their leafage, and they die down to the ground each autumn. These two can be found on the slopes of Swampy Hill, at the head of Nicholl's, Morrison's, and other creeks which come down into the Leith. No doubt, also, they occur in plenty of other similar localities in the adjacent hills, for they are common throughout sub-alpine district in this island. How far these three plants are distinct species, or only varieties of one very variable species, is largely a matter of individual opinion. I could easily pick out of my herbarium three specimens so different from each other as to leave no doubt as to their specific distinctness. On the other hand, were I to lay out on a table a series of specimens collected at various localities and elevations from the shores of Otago Harbour to an elevation of 6000 ft or 7000 ft on Mount Tyndall, it would puzzle a systematist to say to what species some of the intermediate forms belonged. What is perhaps of more interest is this, that Coriaria ruscifolia is as common in Chili as in New Zealand, while C. thymifolia ranges from Peru to Mexico along the main chain of the Andes at elevations of from 4000 ft to 12,000 ft. This recalls to some extent the distribution of the fuchsias, except that the New Zealand species of the latter are quite different from the South American. Both of our species of tutu occur in the Kermadec Islands, which lie pretty far to the north of the New Zealand group of islands. These facts point to the antiquity of the species, while the distribution of the genus bears out the same idea still more. Species of Coriaria occur in Southern Europe, Japan, China, and the Himalayas; indeed, Linnaeus gave the generic name to the plant because the roots of the European species - C myrtifolia - have long been used in Southern Russia and elsewhere for tanning leather (Latin, corium, leather). Now, if one might hazard an interesting speculation, I would suggest that in a former geological age, Coriaria was spread over the extreme north of the northern hemisphere at a time when the climate of Spitzbergen was that of a temperate region. When the great ice-caps of the last or some preceding glacial epoch began to settle on the North Pole, driving the vegetation southwards, Coriaria had to retreat along with other plants. It appears to have followed two lines of retreat one down to Southern Europe, and another through the Alaskan or Behring Sea region, this latter probably dividing into two branches, a western line passing down by Japan and China to the Himalayas and an eastern down the mountain chains of America, from whence it spread across the Pacific to New Zealand by a now-submerged chain of communications. Such speculations are more than merely interesting they frequently lead to suggestions from which come practical discoveries. As far as I know no fossil remains of tutu have ever been recognised, and the only part likely to leave any identifiable fossil's would be the leaves.

There is another feature about Coriaria which shows the antiquity of the form, and it is that it has no living allies. Botanists don't know where to place it or with what other groups of plants it should be classified. The flowers of tutu are worth looking at just now. They are quite out of the ordinary in their development. When they first open they often appear to be rusty or brownish red, this tint being due to the colour of the backs of the undeveloped anthers. They have each five small green sepals, between which appear the points of five smaller and paler petals, then ten unripe anthers, and in the centre five or more red styles, which are stigmatiferous all over that is covered with little sticky protuberances, so that pollen grains will adhere to them. These styles are the first and most conspicuous part of the flower to mature, and they remain protruded for a week or more, so as to catch any pollen which may be floating about in their neighbourhood I have noticed that while the upper flowers on a cluster really the lower ones, however, as the racemes hang down- nearly always have five styles, those near the base of the cluster have seven, eight, or ten. I don't know whether this is a common fact. After the styles have shrivelled, the anthers mature, their stalks slightly elongating. As they then hang loose to the wind, the slightest breath of air stirs their pendant clusters, and scatters out the dry dusty pollen in little clouds. This is a curious device to prevent self- and bring about cross-fertilisation and, as is the case in all such wind-fertilised flowers, the number of pollen grains which go to waste and fail to reach a stigma must be enormous. After fertilisation the petals begin to grow and become full of purple juice, eventually forming the so-called berries, inside of which are the small, hard, dry fruits, which are commonly known as seeds.

Tutu is well known to be one of the few poisonous plants which occur in New Zealand. The poison is most abundant in the seeds, but it is also found in the stems and foliage. The drovers and early settlers of the colony were very familiar with the effects of this plant on cattle. Animals taken quietly on to tutu-covered ground and allowed to feed there got into fine condition on it, even when they ate it freely. But if a mob of cattle, after being driven all day were brought to camp on such ground, many of them used to go mad during the night, and the drivers had a bad time of it, often losing several of their beasts.

The poisonous principle of the plant has been investigated by more than one individual. Some 30 years ago Drs Hughes and Acheson, of Hokitika, made experiments with it. The former succeeded in extracting an oily fluid, probably containing the vegeto-alkaloid, of which he sampled about one-twelfth of a grain on himself, and had a bad half-hour afterwards. Cats and dogs succumbed rapidly to minute doses but, singularly enough rabbits eat the leaves of the plant with impunity, and also swallowed somewhat large quantities of the extract without harm. It is interesting to remember that the juice from the petals is quite harmless, and may be made into jelly or fermented into wine as long as the seeds are kept out. Dunedin, 30th November, 1899.

Otago Witness 24 May 1900, Page 4
Mr George Thomson, Kaitangata, lost 10 head of cattle on Tuesday owing to tutu poisoning at Castle Hill, where there is said to be a considerable amount of the plant growing.

Otago Witness 8 December 1892, Page 32
The Wairarapa Star says that a large number of young trout are reported to have been found dead in the Masterton streams of late. From observations made it has been discovered that the dead trout have been found only in those parts of the streams where tutu is growing on the banks. Now it is believed that the poison from the tutu is transmitted to the fish by the green beetles, which are to be found in the trees by the thousand. This theory is borne out by the fact that the mortality only occurs early in the spring, when beetles are numerous.

Otago Witness 16 November 1893, Page 27
Cattle may be poisoned with tutu at all seasons, but it is most dangerous in summer and at harvest time. It would be unwise to use any animal that has died from poisoning as an article of diet.

South Canterbury NZGenWeb Project