NATURE lovers are being warned to look but not touch a rare wildflower which has been discovered at a beauty spot.
The corncockle was considered extinct because of modern farming methods – but a single new flower was spotted in the grounds of Souter Lighthouse, Whitburn, earlier this week.
While it is a slice of horticultural history, people who are keen to see it for themselves are being warned that it is toxic and should not be touched.
Mick Simpson, National Trust ranger for The Leas and Whitburn, said: “It is highly toxic and shouldn’t be touched.
“It was discovered earlier this week by my colleague Dougie Holden.
“The seed for the corncockle is contained in wildflower seed mixes and could be that it has blown over from a garden onto the land. It will be interesting to see if we get more wildflowers growing in the future.”
The corncockle is an incredibly rare flower that originates from other parts of Europe.
It is believed to have been brought into the United Kingdom by Iron Age farmers.
At one time, most fields in the country would have been crammed full of corncockles.
But since farmers changed agricultural methods, it has become so rare that it was considered extinct – until now.
Dougie, assistant ranger at Souter Lighthouse, said: “I have never seen one in Sunderland before, and we have never had one on this property before, so it is quite a surprise. I am delighted.
“If it disperses, we might get a small population of them which would be great.”
The wildflower was extremely common in William Shakespeare’s lifetime and even had a mention in one of his celebrated works, Coriolanus.
But while it has rare beauty, it is a deadly plant if consumed.
Its poison was discovered centuries ago, when doctors thought it could have medicinal properties, and would experiment on patients and animals.
Residents are urged that if they do see the corncockle, they should not disturb it in any way.
If it is left to grow, the single corncockle could be the first of many to thrive in the wild in South Tyneside.