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OPENING: The Power of Poison

July 10, 2015

The Power of Poison is a new exhibit at the Museum of Nature and Science that is included with admission. Poison Exhibit Info

Description from DMNS website:


There is an extraordinary variety of evolutionary strategies among plants and animals that use poison in their struggle to survive. Colombia’s Chocó forest is home to many dangerous inhabitants and is the perfect place to look for adaptations, ranging from mimicking the colors of deadlier species to lethal partnerships forged between poisonous insects and the plants that provide them with food and shelter.

  • Become immersed in a re-creation of the remote Chocó forest. As you wander through the foliage, see live poison dart frogs, explore models of venomous insects at three times their normal size, and find out some of the ways humans have figured out which plants are toxic.


There was a time when magic—not science—was widely used to explain abnormal behavior, a time when the lines between poison, magic, and disease were often blurred. Not surprisingly, poisonous plants and other toxins can be found at the core of countless fairy tales, legends, and literary works. Some of the most unlikely stories often contain kernels of truth.

  • Encounter a life-size diorama of a famous scene from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, featuring a trio of witches surrounding their boiling cauldron and drawing on the magical powers of highly poisonous plants.
  • Another diorama portrays the story of Snow White. She has eaten a “poisoned apple” and fallen into a deep sleep. In the fairy tale, she later revives. Is this really possible? Examine some potential scenarios.
  • A scene from the Mad Hatter’s tea party from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland focuses on how this character’s odd behavior was likely inspired by symptoms of mercury poisoning suffered by workers in the hat-making industry in the 18th and 19th centuries.
  • Additional displays feature other popular characters whose stories involve poison, such as Harry Potter, Sherlock Holmes, and Lemony Snicket.
  • Turn the pages of the Enchanted Book, which “magically” reveals the origins and myths of well-known poisonous plant species, such as belladonna and monkshood.
  • Watch the ancient myths of Hercules and Medea unfold in animations projected onto ceramic pots.


Sources of illness and death were mysterious for most of human history, especially if they involved poison, which was typically difficult to detect. The birth of modern forensics and the emergence of toxicology as a scientific discipline provided new methods for solving criminal cases involving poison.

  • During a live gallery show, hear the story of a real-world case from the 19th century. See demonstrations that show the chemistry of poison, and discover how new methods for detecting poison emerged.


Poisoning is not always the result of a criminal action. Accidental poisonings occur to animals and humans. Today’s knowledge of the effect of toxins means that poisonings can usually be treated if they are caught in time.

  • Play detective as you explore life-size shadow boxes portraying accidental poisonings. An iPad app guides you as you find clues and solve the puzzling cases. Continue the fun by downloading the free app The Power of Poison: Be a Detective.


The field of toxicology was born out of a specific and urgent need—to detect poisons and prevent illness or death. Over the past century, advances in cellular biology have allowed scientists to discover different ways in which poisons affect human cells and to figure out how to put that power to work restoring human health.

  • Explore how plant and animal toxins are being studied as sources for new life-saving drugs. Surprises include draculin, an anticlotting agent in vampire bat saliva that can assist stroke patients.
  • Encounter a model of a gigantic yew tree, which is extremely poisonous but whose bark has proven effective in cancer treatments. Lord Voldemort’s wand in the Harry Potter series is made of yew!


July 10, 2015


Denver Museum of Nature and Science
2001 Colorado Blvd.
Denver, CO 80205 United States
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