Wicked Plants: The Weed That Killed Lincoln's Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities

Wicked Plants: The Weed That Killed Lincoln's Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities

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by Amy Stewart, Briony Morrow-Cribbs, Jonathon Rosen
     
 

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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. In Wicked Plants, Stewart takes on over two hundred of Mother Nature’s most appalling creations. It’s an A to Z of plants that kill, maim, intoxicate, and otherwise offend. You’ll…  See more details below

Overview

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. In Wicked Plants, Stewart takes on over two hundred of Mother Nature’s most appalling creations. It’s an A to Z of plants that kill, maim, intoxicate, and otherwise offend. You’ll learn which plants to avoid (like exploding shrubs), which plants make themselves exceedingly unwelcome (like the vine that ate the South), and which ones have been killing for centuries (like the weed that killed Abraham Lincoln's mother).

Menacing 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.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Author Stewart presents an alphabetical compendium of hazardous plants (both native and exotic) that notes their harmfulness, whether it be deadly, illegal, invasive, or intoxicating, while incorporating pop culture, medicine, mythology, history, legalities, and botanical facts. The text is highly intriguing, but a lot of its charm (illustrations and presentation) is lost on the audio version, where the Latin plant names and botanical details often become repetitive. Reader Coleen Marlo is excellent and recites the botanical lingo with ease. Recommended to lovers of fascinating trivia, history, botany, and horticulture. [The Algonquin hc was a New York Times best seller.—Ed.]—Phillip Oliver, Univ. of North Alabama, Florence

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781565129399
Publisher:
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Publication date:
05/21/2009
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
223
Sales rank:
37,176
File size:
5 MB

Read an Excerpt

Wicked Plants

THE WEED THAT KILLED LINCOLN'S MOTHER & OTHER BOTANICAL ATROCITIES
By Amy Stewart

Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill

Copyright © 2009 Amy Stewart
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-56512-683-1


Chapter One

Aconite

ACONITUM NAPELLUS

In 1856 a dinner party in the Scottish village of Dingwall came to a horrible end. A servant had been sent outside to dig up horseradish, but instead he uprooted aconite, also called monkshood. The cook, failing to recognize that she had been handed the wrong ingredient, grated it into a sauce for the roast and promptly killed two priests who were guests at the dinner. Other guests were sickened but survived.

Even today, aconite is easily mistaken for an edible herb. This sturdy, low-growing herbaceous perennial is found in gardens and in the wild throughout Europe and the United States. The spikes of blue flowers give the plant its common name "monkshood" because the uppermost sepal is shaped like a helmet or a hood. All parts of the plant are extremely toxic. Gardeners should wear gloves anytime they go near it, and backpackers should not be tempted by its white, carrot-shaped root. The Canadian actor Andre Noble died of aconite poisoning after he encountered it on a hiking trip in 2004.

The poison, an alkaloid called aconitine, paralyzes the nerves, lowers the blood pressure, and eventually stops the heart. (Alkaloids are organic compounds that in many cases have some kind of pharmacological effect on humans or animals.) Swallowing the plant or its roots can bring on severe vomiting and then death by asphyxiation. Even casual skin contact can cause numbness, tingling, and cardiac symptoms. Aconitine is so powerful that Nazi scientists found it useful as an ingredient for poisoned bullets.

In Greek mythology, deadly aconite sprang from the spit of the three-headed hound Cerberus as Hercules dragged it out of Hades. Legend has it that it got another of its common names, wolfsbane, because ancient Greek hunters used it as a bait and arrow poison to hunt wolves. Its reputation as a witch's potion from the Middle Ages earned it a starring role in the Harry Potter series, where Professor Snape brews it to assist Remus Lupin in his transformation to a werewolf.

Meet the Relatives Related to aconite are the lovely blue and white Aconitum cammarum; the delphinium-like A. carmichaelii; and the yellow A. lycoctonum, commonly referred to as wolfsbane.

FAMILY: Ranunculaceae

HABITAT: Rich, moist garden soil, temperate climates

NATIVE TO: Europe

COMMON NAMES: Wolfsbane, monkshood, leopard's bane

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Wicked Plants by Amy Stewart Copyright © 2009 by Amy Stewart. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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What People are saying about this

"Culling legend and citing science, Stewart's fact-filled, AZ compendium of nature's worst offenders offers practical and tantalizing composite views of toxic, irritating, prickly, and all-around ill-mannered plants." —-Booklist

Meet the Author

Briony Morrow-Cribbs studied studied art at the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design in Vancouver, British Columbia, and currently lives in Brattleboro, Vermont, where she owns and operates Twin Vixen Press.

Amy Stewart is the award-winning author of six books on the perils and pleasures of the natural world. She is the cofounder of the popular blog Garden Rant and is a contributing editor at Fine Gardening magazine. She and her husband live in Eureka, California, where they own an antiquarian bookstore called Eureka Books.

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