Wicked Plants


I fancy myself as a rather successful amateur gardener. Back in the day when I had an endless backyard, I engineered a rather bountiful vegetable garden. Now as a happy townhome owner, I am now into filling my allotted 6'X6' deck with petunias, daisies, and other types of flowers, since I lack the deep ground necessary to grow my beloved vegetables.

Despite my self-proclaimed botanical prowess, I'll admit that I have never considered giving up these safe flowers and growing seemingly dangerous plants like aloe, tulips, and potatoes. I certainly have not considered growing a poisonous plant garden full of poison ivy, water hemlock, and white snakeroot. Amy Stewart's latest book Wicked Plants chronicled the dangerous, deadly, and painful plants that inhabit the world.

The subtitle for Wicked PlantsThe Weed that Killed Lincoln's Mother & Other Botanical Atrocities-gave me a slight hope this book would be a rather humorous examination of these unfriendly plants. However, this book is more like a simple field manual than an attempt at humor. Stewart put the plants into simple categories-illegal, intoxicating, offensive, & destructive among others-and gave a concise description of why each was wicked.

Included in this book are copper etchings of the most notorious plants. Although these etchings are interesting, I was left with a desire to see actual photos of the offending plants. So what I ended up doing was using Google to search pictures of these plants, which slightly irritated me because it added another step in the reading process that could have been avoided by providing photos in the first place.

This irritation was short lived, however, because of my fascination with institutions intentionally growing toxic plant gardens. Of the three in the United States, this one is definitely on my hit list.

W.C. Muenscher Poisonous Plants Garden: Cornell University maintains a poisonous plant garden in Ithaca, New York, as part of its veterinary school. Most of the plants will be familiar to North American gardeners; the goal is to help familiarize students of veterinary medicine with the plants that animals are most likely to encounter. (232)

This plant probably shocked me the most.

All parts of lilies are toxic to cats, causing kidney failure and death within twenty-four to forty-eight hours. Think twice before bringing a potted Easter lily into the house, and keep floral arrangements containing lilies well out of reach of your whiskered friends. (164-165)

These statistics were also shocking.

And when a baby comes home, we rush to add safety caps to electrical outlets but ignore the houseplant in the kitchen and the shrub by the front door-this in spite of the fact that 3,900 people are injured annually by electrical outlets while 68,847 are poisoned by plants. (XIV)

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