Wicked Plants: Amy Stewart’s Botanical Atrocities

By on March 19, 2012

Wicked Plants by Amy Stewart explores the dark side of the plant kingdom, delving into the most infamous horticultural homicides.

Wicked Plants by Amy Stewart
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Wicked Plants: The Weed That Killed Lincoln’s Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities by Amy Stewart is an A-Z guide to some of the most vicious plants and their long history of horticultural homicide.

Journey into the dark side of the plant kingdom with a tree that sheds poison daggers, a glistening red seed that stops the heart, a shrub that causes paralysis, a vine that strangles, a leaf that triggered a war and more plants that kill, maim, intoxicate, or otherwise offend.

Wicked Plants by Amy StewartMenacing botanical illustrations and splendidly ghastly drawings create a fascinating portrait of the evildoers that may be lurking in your own backyard. Drawing on history, medicine, science, and legend, this compendium of bloodcurdling botany will entertain, alarm, and enlighten even the most intrepid gardeners and nature lovers.

A few of the grim facts from the book:

MONKSHOOD (Aconitum napellus) contains a toxin so powerful that Nazi scientists used it in poisoned bullets.

Dr. James Livingstone reported on the use of ordeal poisons in Africa such as CALABAR BEAN (Physostigma venenosum). If the accused vomited the bean, they were innocent, but if it killed them, that proved their guilt.

The deranged behavior that led to the Salem witch trials may have been caused by ERGOT (Claviceps purpura), a fungus that grows on rye and causes wild hallucinations.

The KGB used ricin, the poison in CASTOR BEAN (Ricinus communis), to murder communist defectors.

Dr. Thomas Cream, a 19th-century serial killer, slipped STRYCHNINE (Strychnos nuxvomica) to his patients and was eventually hanged for his crimes.

The ghastly symptoms of pellagra, a syndrome caused by eating too much CORN (Zea mays), could have inspired European myths of vampirism in Bram Stoker’s Dracula: pale skin that erupted in blisters when exposed to the sun, sleepless nights, an inability to eat normal food, and a morbid appearance just before death.

POISON HEMLOCK (Conium maculatum) killed the Greek philosopher Socrates, who in 399 BC was convicted of corrupting the youth of Athens, among other offenses.

Claudius, Emperor of Rome from 41 to 54 B.C., died under mysterious circumstances. Historians believe his symptoms point to poisoning by muscarine, a toxin found in several species of DEADLY MUSHROOMS. Who fed him his final meal? One expert suggested that “Claudius died of de una uxore nimia, or one too many wives.”

WHITE SNAKEROOT (Eupatorium rugosum) causes cows to produce poison milk, resulting in the deadly illness called milk sickness that killed Abraham Lincoln’s mother.

DAPHNE (Daphne spp.), a beloved winter shrub, produces attractive red berries so toxic they could kill a child.

States are cracking down on the sale of DIVINER’S SAGE (Salvia divinorum), a tender, flowering salvia that is widely traded on the Internet for its hallucinogenic properties.

Absinthe, that pale green, highly alcoholic drink from the 19th century that was believed to cause hallucinations and madness, gets its bad reputation from WORMWOOD (Artemisia absinthium).

Get Wicked Plants right here.

Amy Stewart’s follow up to Wicked Plants is Wicked Bugs: The Louse That Conquered Napoleon’s Army & Other Diabolical Insects


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