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Wicked Plants: The Weed That Killed…

Wicked Plants: The Weed That Killed Lincoln's Mother and Other Botanical… (original 2009; edition 2009)

by Amy Stewart, Briony Morrow-Cribbs (Illustrator), Jonathon Rosen (Illustrator)

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8194711,095 (3.75)72
Title:Wicked Plants: The Weed That Killed Lincoln's Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities
Authors:Amy Stewart
Other authors:Briony Morrow-Cribbs (Illustrator), Jonathon Rosen (Illustrator)
Info:Algonquin Books (2009), Edition: 1, Hardcover, 223 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:Botany, Poison

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Wicked Plants: The Weed That Killed Lincoln's Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities by Amy Stewart (2009)


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Gift from Jesse for my birthday 2014
  susanaberth | May 17, 2015 |
In Stewart’s book, the author illustrates a ghastly portrait of unsafe plants that may be lurking in your backyard. Who knew we could actually be tilling a poisonous garden? A must read for anyone in close contact with any plant. ( )
  debbieaheaton | Apr 30, 2015 |
Amy Stewart’s Wicked Plants: The Weed That Killed Lincoln’s Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities takes readers on a tour of the serial killers of the botanical kingdom.

Her preface sets the tone, and gives a sense of the interesting and exciting information contained in the book:

"Some of the plants in this book have quite a scandalous history. A weed killed Abraham Lincoln’s mother. A shrub nearly blinded Frederick Law Olmsted, America’s most famous landscape architect. A flowering bulb sickened members of the Lewis and Clark expedition. Poison hemlock killed Socrates, and the most wicked weed of all tobacco - has claimed ninety million lives.”

For each plant (characterized variously as “deadly,” “illegal,” “intoxicating,” “dangerous,” “destructive,” “offensive,” and “painful,” the author provides an explanation of what the plant does and anecdotes about its use or misuse. Scientific information (biological family, native habitat, and common names appear in sidebars).

I learned so many fun things in this book (well, fun from a distance). For example, I knew kudzu was invasive, but had no idea that a single tap root can weigh up to four hundred pounds! The U.S. production of illegal cannabis has been estimated at $35 billion, while the value of the nation’s corn crop is only $22.6 billion, and even tobacco weighs in at only $1 billion. In 1898 Bayer started marketing heroin. It sold it as a cough syrup for children and adults, but took it off the market after ten years. (For fellow fans of the series “The Knick,” which is set in New York City in 1900, you may remember seeing Bayer’s heroin in the last, cliff-hanging scene of Season One.) The author provides evidence of why the bizarre behavior exhibited by young girls in Salem in 1691 was probably a result of Ergot, a toxic fungus that infects rye and contaminates bread. And she includes the latest research on what makes absinthe, the liquor made from wormwood, so lethal: it’s not, as previously thought, the chemical thujone in the wormwood. Apparently mass spectrometer analysis shows the level of thujone in absinthe is minimal; its deleterious effects are more likely due to the fact that it is a 130-proof spirit…..

Many of the dangerous plants described are common in the American Southwest. I went to the emergency room at least twice when we lived there because of plant “attacks.” But after reading this book, I consider myself lucky!

The author notes that some 68,000 people are poisoned annually by plants. She admonishes us to use reliable sources (not necessarily including those to be found on the internet) to identify poisonous, medicinal, and edible plants. She repeatedly stresses the importance of calling a poison control center if affected.

There are beautiful etchings of all the plants discussed, created by Briony Morrow-Cribbs, and also occasional illustrations by Jonathan Rosen. At the end of the book, there is a brief list of some well-known poison gardens, a bibliography, and the address of the book’s website for more information. There is no index, however, which is a bit shocking, and unfortunately diminishes some of the usefulness of the book.

Evaluation: This is such a fun, entertaining book. It would make a great tool for all the mothers who try, sometimes in vain, to convince their kids not to put everything in their mouths. ( )
  nbmars | Mar 31, 2015 |
I love this book! I first borrowed it from the library and later got my own copy. Firstly, it's beautiful. Secondly, I love the combination of science, lore, and humor. Lots of fascinating facts in a small package, covering botany, history, literature and more. Have you ever wondered what actually caused milk sickness? Read about the mandrake in Harry Potter or Shakespeare's plays? Wanted to know which plant is responsible for the most accidental poisonings? Wondered how Socrates could have been poisoned by an evergreen tree? Then check out this book!
  books333 | Nov 2, 2013 |
Wicked Plants is a fascinating collection of facts and anecdotes about plants that are dangerous. The plants are listed alphabetically with the description of the plant features and their dangerous effects. Most listings are accompanied by an interesting story about how the plant has been harmful, and some contain a social history of the plants legality.

The biggest surprise for me while reading this book was how many common plants, even those we eat, have harmful effects. I learned that cashews, for example, have to be steamed open. If the nut even touches the cashew shell it can cause someone to handles or eats it to break out in a rash. Another is celery, which contains phototoxic compounds.

"Farm workers and handlers of celery routinely get burns on their skin that show up under sunlight, and people who eat large quantities of celery are at risk as well. One medical journal cited a case of a woman who ate celery root and then went to a tanning booth, ending up with a severe sunburn." Page 96

The book covers a wide range of plants, from those that are developed into illegal drugs, such as coca (the source of cocaine) to common house and garden plants that are lethal. I was fascinated by the history of the usage of some plants, such as the coca plant and the kola nut, both the original ingredients in Coca-Cola.

". . . coca extract is still believed to be a flavoring, just without the cocaine alkaloid. The leaves are legally imported by an American manufacturer, which buys it from Peru's National Coca Company, transforms it into Coca-Cola's secret flavoring, and extracts the cocaine for pharmaceutical use as a topical anesthetic." Page 22

Each plant has its own small section, making it a book that is easy to pick up and read when you have a few spare moments. I had a hard time stopping myself from pestering my husband with some of the stories because there were so unusual.

The illustrations were lovely. I am not a plant expert, so I don't think I would actually be able to identify the plants from the monochromatic drawings, but they were nice to look at. There is also a ribbon bookmark built into the book, which I thought was a nice feature.

If you have any interest in plants, or simply have a morbid curiosity about the many ways that plants can hurt and kill you, then you should love this book. ( )
1 vote akreese | May 16, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 47 (next | show all)
Wicked Plants is a stroll down a garden path of dread. Some of the most beloved and innocent plants in our own personal edens are villains at their core...Some 3,900 people in the U.S. are injured every year by poking around electrical outlets, while more than 68,000 are poisoned by plants...
added by SqueakyChu | editToronto Star, Leslie Scrivener (Jul 11, 2009)
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Would not the earth, quickened to an evil purpose by the sympathy of his eye, greet him with poisonous shrubs...Would he not suddenly sink into the earth, leaving a barren and blasted spot, where, in due course of time, would be seen deadly nightshade, dogwood, henbane, and whatever else of vegetable wickedness the climate could produce, all flourishing with hideous luxuriance?
--Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter
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A tree sheds poison daggers; a glistening red seed stops the heart; a shrub causes intolerable pain; a vine intoxicates; a leaf triggers a war.
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(from the back of the book) A tree that sheds poison daggers; a glistening red seed that stops the heart; a shrub that causes paralysis; a vine that strangles; and a leaf that triggered a war. Amy Stewart, bestselling author of Flower Confidential, takes on over two hundred of Mother Nature's most appalling creations in an A to Z of plants that kill, maim, intoxicate, and otherwise offend. Menacing botanical illustrations render a ghastly portrait of evildoers that may be lurking on your own backyard. Drawing on history, medicine, science, and legend, this compendium of bloodcurdling botany will entertain, enlighten, and alarm even the most intrepid gardeners and nature lovers.
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Stewart takes on more than 200 of Mother Nature's most appalling creations and offers this A-to-Z compendium of plants that kill, maim, intoxicate, and otherwise offend.

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