Cardiganshire Laburnum Mystery
Why is such a poisonous plant used in
In Ceredigion, as well as Carmarthenshire, many
field hedges are planted with the Laburnum tree (Laburnum
anagyroides). In May and June, its long bunches of pea-like
yellow flowers provide an unlikely splash of colour with its showy
flowers giving this tree the alternative names of 'Golden Chain Tree'
and 'Golden Rain Tree'.
Some of the best displays of
Laburnum can be seen bordering old fields beside the coastal
A487 between Llanarth and Cardigan. Laburnum
is also used as a hedging plant in Carmarthenshire and other parts of
South Wales as well as in parts of Shropshire.
Laburnum is indigenous to the mountains of Central and Southern Europe,
but is now widely cultivated across Europe and Britain. The tree was
first introduced to Britain in 1597 at which time the famous medieval
herbalist Gerard appears to have grown it in his garden under the names
of Anagyris, Laburnum, and Bean Trefoil.
mystery of Laburnum is that it was so widely planted as a hedging plant
about 150 years ago in West Wales when all the parts of the plant are
highly poisonous to both farm animals and Mankind. Indeed ,
there are many references to the fact that Laburnum should never be
planted where farm animals can reach them!
Cytisine was first discovered in 1863 by as one of several poisonous
alkaloids present in the seeds of the Laburnum. Cytisine is a white,
crystalline solid, with a bitter, caustic taste, and a very
poisonous action. It has in the past been recommended as a cure for
whooping cough and asthma. Symptoms of poisoning by Laburnum
or seeds are intense sleepiness, vomiting, convulsive movements, coma,
slight frothing at the mouth and unequally dilated pupils. In some
cases, diarrhoea is very severe.
hedges have been coppiced and have a characteristic shape. This hedge
is near Brynhoffnant on the A487. The photo was taken in the spring
just as the leaves were starting to open.
its poisonous nature, Laburnum does have some use. The heart-wood of
the Laburnum was often used as an Ebony substitute as it is very hard
and coloured a dark chocolate brown. The sapwood surrounding the
heart-wood is in contrast a bright yellow. The wood has been used for
making the handles of tools and for use in various crafts.
the Laburnum has been planted for its decorative value. There is a
specimen tree planted in the lawns below Glanmor Terrace in New Quay,
and many were planted in parks and gardens in the 1940's and 1950's.
Maybe, farmers in Ceredigion also planted them as hedges for their
colour. Whatever the reason, there remains little recorded evidence
other than the trees themselves.