Lesson 7) Hazardous Herbs

Year One, Lesson Seven
Fundamentals of Flora: “Groundwork”


Hello again, First Years! Ah, I see some eager looks on your faces. Yes, if you recall, today we will be discussing some of the more dangerous considerations herbologists face when working with plants. Though I hate to disappoint, we will not be directly working with any of the plants mentioned or discussing their planting, harvesting, or general care. These plants are far too advanced for you at this moment. Think of this as a sneak peek into the world of dangerous plants we will be studying later.

This lesson is just to make you aware of what the W.H.I.P.S. classes (and their subclasses) are. Confused? Let me explain!

Dangers of Plants
There are several different types of hazards that can stem from plants. Over time, these hazards have come to be uniformly classified and identified for easier communication between witches and wizards of different backgrounds and ability levels. This class system is known as the Wizarding Herbs with Irritating or Perilous Specialties, or W.H.I.P.S. for short. The purpose of the W.H.I.P.S. classes is to give wizards a standardized way to communicate about hazardous magical plants, what to expect from these kinds of plants, as well as clear guidelines from the Ministry of Magic as to laws about such plants. To be clear, other than Class C, this system of classification does not apply to non-magical plants.

 Today I am going to discuss with you the different types of hazards and the safety requirements for dealing with those hazards. The Ministry requires everyone who may be working with plants to be educated in the W.H.I.P.S. classes, so please pay close attention to this lesson material. I ask this for the safety of you, your classmates, and anyone you may work or travel with in the future! A key way to not getting taken by surprise by any of these plants is not working on them alone, after all. Though keeping your wand on you at all times is a close second.

 There are six official classes of dangerous plants, and it is important to remember that some plants may fall under more than one class. Each class can have different levels of potency or danger, and have a variety of effects, though I will do my best to explain all plants that fall within that range. However, keep in mind that as with nearly all magical fields, there may be more undiscovered abilities that magical plants have which have not yet been documented! While these classes are reasonably exhaustive at the moment, things may change. The Ministry of Magic is currently debating adding a seventh class, but I will not confuse you with the details about this hypothetical classification in this lesson so as to avoid overloading you. After all, we’re just starting out!

Class A: Odorous
At their core, plants in the odorous class can affect people, animals, or even other plants by releasing odors in the form of a powder or gas. When working with these plants one should wear a mask, use a Bubble-Head Charm, or take other similar precautions. Masks should be reinforced with strengthening charms and have filtering charms applied. Plants with the odorous classification can have different abilities and can fall into three subclasses, called level one, two, and three.

Level One
Level one is the most severe and indicates a plant that puts you in immediate danger of death. Quite perilous for our first look at these classifications, no? I told you these were no laughing matter! More specifics about this class include that the powder or gas will cause difficulty breathing, and will lead to asphyxiation and death in minutes. The pollen of the potent Hagweed has this unfortunate side-effect when the plant is pollinating, so it’s not necessarily something that has to be year-round. Strangely, mandrakes have also been put into this class, though their threat is neither a gas nor a powder. This has a bit to do with the potential seventh class I mentioned.

Level Two
Plants from this subclass are slightly less dangerous, but can still cause death over a long period of exposure, or over repeated encounters if not treated each time. This danger is in the form of poison and other elements whether inhaled as a gas or powder. Essentially, the odors or spores of these plants can irritate the the respiratory system (or other important systems) and upset the balance of the human body. Additionally, they may find a way under the skin or into your eyes. Cornus impuritas, otherwise known by the common name Smogwood, is an example of a plant that fits in this class. This hybrid was magically enchanted and crossbred to absorb pollutants in the air. An unfortunate limitation comes in the fact that not all the pollution can be permanently stored in the Smogwood tree, and some small amounts of smog, dust, and generally toxic substances are constantly being exuded from the plant. After spending many hours unprotected in a greenhouse that contains Smogwood, you will likely begin to feel ill, though adverse effects will seem to dissipate once you remove yourself from the situation. Don’t be fooled though! When you feel ill after working with plants, be sure to seek medical attention right away, as permanent damage could be occurring even if your symptoms disappear.

Level Three
Finally we have the mildest class of odorous plants! There are three separate possible issues a level three odorous plant may present. In the first case -- paralysis -- persons will lose the ability to protect themselves once affected by the plant. While paralysis in and of itself is not inherently a threat, it may leave the victim open to other attacks. This paralysis may be partial, only affecting movement in the arms and legs, or it may affect one’s full body. Antidotes should always be kept on hand for a partner to apply; paralysis is more curable than the conditions one will receive if the plant should follow up with another attack! Additionally, some plants can just cause disorientation or confusion. While like paralysis in that it is not an issue in and of itself, this disorientation can still lead to potentially disastrous or deadly mistakes. Finally, plants in this level can also cause the person who is in contact with the powder or gas to fall into a deep sleep, potentially leaving them open to danger. This is a lot of ground to cover, but one plant that falls into this wide range of herbs is the spider flower. Not to be confused with their non-magical cousins, a true spider flower will instantly cause paralysis upon the inhalation of its pollen. The duration and intensity of the paralysis can vary according to the affected’s weight and previous exposure, but make sure you have someone watching your back to avoid what may happen next!

Class B: Physically Aggressive
This class includes plants which may intentionally cause damage when feeling threatened or to obtain food. These plants are usually easy enough for a well-educated wizard to handle, so it is crucial we make you aware of them so you can be better prepared! Again, there is a wide variety of abilities that can fall into this class, including strangulation, biting, cutting, and general pummeling. Many flesh-eating plants fall into this class, though not all.

The ability to strangle is usually found in magical vine-like plants and can either be used as a self defence mechanism, or for capturing and consuming prey, if it is a carnivorous plant. Devil’s Snare is an example of the latter. Should you confuse its waving tendrils with that of the harmless Flitterbloom, I hope you are prepared! Fortunately, you don’t run the risk of running into Devil’s Snare just anywhere -- they prefer the damp and dark and are usually only found in cave systems or shadowy bogs. If you do end up tangling with this nasty plant, be sure to relax, as eventually the plant will release you, or introduce some light into its environment, as it will shrivel.

Plants with teeth may bite, though I really hope that is obvious. More importantly, though, when you are bitten you can easily become subject to other conditions like venom. Rarely does a plant just have a bite. More often, there is a second danger you will face shortly after. The good news, though, is that it is very rare for immediate death to occur from a bite. An example of this is the Fanged Geranium, whose bite will inflict a nasty poison that causes human skin to swell, bubble, and in some extreme cases, turn reddish with white spots. Fortunately, the best way to avoid the dangers of biting plants is simple: dragonhide gloves! Of course, should you deal specifically with large numbers of biting plants, dragonhide jackets and trousers would be a better guarantee, but for the small amount of time you will be handling them, just the gloves on their own should be sufficient to avoid 99% of biting plant mishaps.

There are also many plants with sharp leaves that can cut through your clothing and skin. They can be sharp enough to cut into arteries, and, well, there are too many places you don’t want a deep cut! Some of these plants will keep to themselves unless touched, while others are very territorial and will attempt to fend you off if you get within a few feet of them, like the Spiky Bush, which will shoot its own sharp projectiles towards you to cut you. In terms of defending and protecting yourself from cutting plants, often a good pair of dragonhide gloves is all that is needed, though plants that shoot projectiles may also require evasive action or even the Shield Charm. Should all else fail, dittany will cure what ails you most of the time, but be sure to see a healer in order to make sure the plant does not have any additional, potentially toxic properties.

As if all this wasn’t enough, there are also plants that pummel, punch, ram, or hit. I know you can think of one right off the top of your head! These plants are some of the most active of this class, though not necessarily the most dangerous.

 Class C: Toxic

This class deals with plants that are toxic to humans. Furthermore, it is the only one that has been allowed to overlap with non-magical plants due to the fact that any plant is toxic in the right amounts. Because of this, there are many Ministry of Magic regulations regarding how much of any plant may be used in a potion to avoid issues with toxicity. Plants under the toxic umbrella are further classified via a four level system based on the amount required to reach a lethal dose. Plants with a rating of four are so poisonous that contact with your bare skin may be cause for alarm, whereas plenty of plants that have rated at level one are still frequently used in potions or consumed raw. Since all plants have the potential to be toxic, you may be wondering if all plants fall into this class, but this is not the case. Plants have to be significantly toxic -- enough to set them above the rest -- in order to receive even the lowest rating.

There are two general types of toxic plants, though the difference isn’t necessarily crucial to anyone but the most technical herbologist. First, there are poisonous plants that either contain or are covered in toxic chemicals released by touching or consuming a part of the plant. The second type, venomous plants, inject toxins directly through needles, fangs, hairs, and the like. The effects of the toxin often immobilize the victim. The Venomous Tentacula is an example of the latter, whereas belladonna is an example of the first. Both have their positives and drawbacks depending on the individual circumstances. You must be tired of me saying this, but for both varieties of toxic plants, please wear your dragonhide gloves!

Class D: Infectious
Infectious plants come in two subclasses: naturally infectious and diseased. Naturally infectious plants are able to spread viruses and other conditions even when in peak health. An example of this is Coughagus Ivy, which will give you all the symptoms of a cold if you wander near it. Diseased plants, on the other hand, have contracted an illness, and are now prone to spreading it. There is no specific plant that falls under this class as it is conditional. If a plant contracts an illness, it must be treated under Ministry regulations as a Class D plant. Some diseased plants can spread illnesses across scientific kingdoms, to humans or animals, particularly when we start looking into plants that have been crossbred or magically engineered. However, some simply spread illnesses from one plant to another (though this is of course not ideal, either)!

Class E: Burning
Burning plants are a wild bunch! These plants cause slow-to-rapid destruction of skin, fur, or any other material they touch. Some burning plants are even able to wear through dragonhide, though these are few and far between, and will only be covered towards the end of O.W.L. studies. The main problem with these plants is how they burn through many layers of skin and further. This can happen in a number of ways.

Some plants have strong acids or bases in them, which they will release when disturbed. This can then cause very serious burns, which require attention from a healer. Fire plants are the same, as when it comes down to it, a chemical burn and a regular burn cause similar damage. Fire Seed Bushes are an excellent example of this class, as their seeds cannot even be held with dragonhide gloves. Spells must be applied to keep the burning seed aloft until it cools sufficiently to be handled with dragonhide gloves. The opposite side of the heat spectrum also falls under this class. Freezing plants have stinging hairs which will cause a sensation similar to nettles, which we discussed in Lesson Five, however, they will slowly freeze your skin. While this does not sound too detrimental, be aware that frostbite is both very serious and very possible! In the most extreme cases like that of the Arctic Aloe, freezing plants can activate nerve impulses that will decrease your body temperature, causing your heart rate to slow down. Seek medical attention immediately if you believe you’ve come into contact with these plants.

Class F: Reactive
Our last class is very relevant to potion making, as it refers to how some plants and plant materials react to other materials, as well as how they react when touched. The Ministry of Magic has heavy regulations about how some of the more reactive plants can be transported, in case of contact with undesirable stimuli. Just what counts as an undesirable stimulus varies from one plant to another, but in general, it refers to a material that causes a reaction -- in this case, usually an explosion, though acrid and poisonous puffs of smoke are also possible. Gunpowder Gloriosas are another magically enhanced species of plant that fall into one of the W.H.I.P.S. classes. While experimentation and research is welcomed in herbological circles to advance this area of magic, sometimes there are dangerous discoveries made, as is the case with these beauties. While Gunpowder Gloriosas have a load of beneficial properties, they are also known to combust (and frequently explode) whenever exposed to sunlight for more than exactly three hours a day. A picky plant, for sure!

I hope this hasn’t completely scared you off the topic of herbology! Most plants we will be looking at are quite safe, and I assure you I will be thoroughly preparing you for any plants we cover that have specific considerations or dangers. This week’s homework will involve a quiz on the key points you learned about dangerous magical plants. There is an optional, but highly recommended, second assignment, which requires you to write a short essay about a plant we did not mention that you believe falls under one of the classes, and your explanation or justification as to why. You may also discuss a plant from the lesson that you think could be put into a second class, such as arguing that Coughagus Ivy is also a Class E plant. I look forward to seeing you again next week; don’t worry, our topic won’t be quite so intense!

Original lesson written by Professor Lily Tudor
Additional portions written by Professor Venita Wessex
Image credits here, here, and here

Welcome, First Years! This class introduces the basics of herbology, including the kinds of plants, how to classify them, the difference between a magical and non-magical plant, and how to care for both kinds of flora. Additionally, First Year Herbology students will learn about a selection of easy-to-care-for plants.

Updated May 2018.