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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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781565126831
Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Publication date: 05/21/2009
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 94,240
Product dimensions: 5.70(w) x 7.10(h) x 0.90(d)

About 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.

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.

Table of Contents

Contents

Consider Yourself Warned....................1
Aconite....................3
Arrow Poisons....................7
Ayahuasca Vine and Chacruna....................11
Betel Nut....................15
Castor Bean....................17
Ordeal Poisons....................21
Coca....................25
Coyotillo....................27
This Houseplant Could Be Your Last....................31
Deadly Nightshade....................35
Death Camas....................37
Deadly Dinner....................43
Ergot....................46
Fatal Fungus....................51
Habanero Chili....................55
Henbane....................57
The Devil's Bartender....................63
Iboga....................67
Jimson Weed....................70
Botanical Crime Families....................75
Khat....................79
Killer Algae....................82
Stop and Smell the Ragweed....................87
Kudzu....................89
Lawn of Death....................93
Mala Mujer....................95
Here Comes the Sun....................99
Manchineel Tree....................101
Don't Look Now....................105
Mandrake....................109
Marijuana....................113
Oleander....................116
Forbidden Garden....................121
Opium Poppy....................124
Dreadful Bouquet....................129
Peacock Flower....................133
Peyote Cactus....................135
Psychedelic Plants....................139
Poison Hemlock....................143
Purple Loosetrife....................146
Weeds of Mass Destruction....................151
Ratbane....................155
Rosary Pea....................157
The Terrible Toxicodendrons....................161
Sago Palm....................163
More Than One Way to Skin a Cat....................167
Stinging Tree....................169
Meet the Nettles....................173
Strychnine Tree....................177
Suicide Tree....................179
Carnivores....................183
Tobacco....................187
Toxic Blue-Green Algae....................189
Duck and Cover....................193
Water Hemlock....................197
Water Hyacinth....................200
Social Misfists....................207
Whistling Thorn Acacia....................209
Guess Who's Coming to Dinner....................213
White Snakeroot....................216
Don't Tread on Me....................221
END NOTES....................227
Antidote....................229
About the Artists....................231
Poison Gardens....................233

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"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

Customer Reviews

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Wicked Plants: The Weed That Killed Lincoln's Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 85 reviews.
ChristyLockstein More than 1 year ago
Wicked Plants by Amy Stewart is a fascinating if slightly creepy look at poisonous and harmful plants, some that may be in your yard, house, or even in you rrefrigerator ! First of all, I have to say I love the feel of this book. Too many publishers have forgotten that part of the joy of reading is holding the volume in your hands. Plants is a small hardcover without dust jacket with engraving on the front cover giving it the feel of a late 19th century volume; it even has a ribbon bookmark! It has a charming look inside as well with wickedly humorous engravings drawn with a delicate hand. Most people know about the hazards of deadly nightshade and monkshood, but who knew that corn and red kidney beans could cause serious illness if not cooked/handled correctly? Not all plants are necessarily hazardous to humans, also included are kudzu, killer algae, as well as plants that will make readers' skin crawl. As my librarian said, creative minds would have a hard time imagining the strangeness of Mother Nature, like silly-string look-a-like parasite dodder. Whether the plants are exploding or oozing, some of them are downright weird. One small complaint: I've always heard that apple seeds and peach pits contain arsenic, but neither are addressed in this volume. This is a book I would love to own and keep on my shelf to refer to when buying new plants or just to read aloud some of the stories to freak out friends and family.
markpsadler More than 1 year ago
This is the one book that should be on the reference shelf of every suspense, thriller or horror novelist. In an A to Z such as you have never read before, Stewart lays out the chemical nature of over two hundred plants that can be used to kill, blind, paralyze or at the very least, leave your victim curled up in bed very ill. From deadly nightshade to killer algae, ratbane to hemlock, Stewart lays it all out on the line. If you want to kill off your victim in some mysterious, painful and particularly nasty way, she has a toxin to get the job done. White Snake root is what does in Mrs. Lincoln (Abe's mother). Known as milk sickness, the plant contaminated folks in the early-farm life of America, often wiping out entire families. Written in entertaining jargon, hitting on the scientific, the historical and the medicinal, Stewart enlightens us to the use of weeds, plants and seeds and advises to "consider yourself warned".
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I guess my garden is a paradise of poisons. Some I knew about, others I did not. I think I will be better at wearing gloves from now on.
iluvvideo More than 1 year ago
The book itself is well crafted, a book you'll be proud to have in your collection. Bound in green, with sketches (by Jonathon Rosen) and etchings (by Briony Morrow-Cribbs) of each plant described in exacting detail. A ribbon bookmark to keep your place accentuates the entire package. The plants are listed in several categories according to toxicity. Deadly,dangerous,illegal,intoxicating,destructive, painful and offensive are the headings for each. Plants are listed in alphabetical order with family, habitat, where they are native to and common names for each. Also noted are plants that fall in the same families (i.e. 'relatives'). 'A weed killed Abraham Lincoln's mother. A shrub nearly blinded Frederick Law Olmstead, 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 over ninety million lives!' Easy to read in short chapters, followed by a bibliography and related web link information this volume by author Amy Stewart succeeds on several levels. It's informative, intriguing and a darn fun read all the while. Give it a try!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I learned a lot.
Susan Kamper More than 1 year ago
some cool facts and info
efm More than 1 year ago
amazing what plants will do even when we are watching
Kimberly Eisner More than 1 year ago
Such a wonderful book. Not just straight scientific facts, includes some humor and facts that make you wknder!
Laura Anderson More than 1 year ago
Love it!
Ariel Dax More than 1 year ago
Wonderful facts.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The urban myth about green potato chips is true! (Well, sort of) I got the book on a whim and enjoyed it. It has a lot of information about all kinds of exotic plants, as well as ones we have in our gardens and on our dinner tables. Very interesting, especially if you're the type of person who likes weird facts.
MinnesotaReader More than 1 year ago
"Wicked Plants" introduces an utterly fascinating collection of deadly, intoxicating, dangerous, painful, destructive, and offensive plants. Arranged in alphabetical order, each plant listing is accompanied by interesting quotable facts and engaging anecdotes. What an eye opener! I was surprised that many ordinary house and backyard plants can be outright dangerous, causing among other things.skin sores, emesis, paralysis, delirium, and even heart failure. One of the many intriguing anecdotes was about the 1691 Salem witchcraft trials. Cereal grass caused the young Salem girls' bizarre behavior. But unfortunately, 19 people were hung for 'casting spells' on these girls. Most of the listings are further accompanied by exquisite etchings and charming illustrations created by a duo of talented artists. These, in addition to the 'aged' pages and cover, give the book a delightfully eerie, antique, and magical look. Ms. Stewart is a very gifted writer who has skillfully crafted a creative, well-researched book. With 68,847 people poisoned annually by plants, this enlightening book not only teaches us to have a cautious respect for plants but also does so in a very entertaining format. Now, what about that sub-title "The Weed that killed Abraham Lincoln's Mother and other botanical atrocities?" She got sick from milk and if you want to know how.read this enthralling book! I absolutely loved it! Very highly recommended!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Its freaky
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If you are a plant nut then this book is for you. This book was fun to read and very interesting. I found out how many poisonous plants I have growing in my own back yard!
Lori_Lyn More than 1 year ago
Loved it and just wish I'd taken advantage of when she was in town to get it then and have her sign it! Would have loved a little more depth and some color illustrations. Guess I'll have to hope for an exanded sequal! Great humor, too. Highly recommended for gardeners, cooks, those interested in odd facts, writers - heck, pretty much anyone!
PeterJT More than 1 year ago
Loved it. Interesting, informarive, scary and funny.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is another great book from Amy Stewart. The drawings and detailed etching's were beautiful. My only drawback was that it was to short! Would you please write another one on poison plants but longer?
Tailspinner More than 1 year ago
As writers, my wife and I found this book to be a treasure of herbiforous tidbits. We have added it to our permanent research library, and hope to put it to good use.
Frisbeesage More than 1 year ago
Amy Stewart documents the bad behavior of naughty botanicals in her "Wicked Plants". This bad behavior ranges in classification from Painful, Illegal, Dangerous and Intoxicating to Deadly. Some will not surprise you, most people know that poison ivy causes a rash, that smoking tobacco can kill you, and that nettles sting. However, did you know that raw cashews can cause the same symptoms as poison ivy? Or that Water Hemlock, one of the most dangerous plants in the US , looks just like a carrot and has a pleasant, sweet taste? This little book is packed full of useful information, fun facts, and interesting historical details. I was fascinated to learn that the Salem Witch Trials were almost certainly caused by a fungus and that Socrates died from drinking a tea made from Poison Hemlock. The book is beautifully put together. It features 40 intricate and detailed illustrations of plants. A second artist created gruesome and hysterical cartoons showing the consequences of relations with the various naughty plants in the book. Catchy chapter headings like "More Than One Way to Skin a Cat", concise entries, and fascinating anecdotes make this a fun, easy read. I highly recommend this book for gardeners and nature enthusiasts!
KatharineDB on LibraryThing 10 months ago
fabulous fun read.. visitors to my garden beware..
lukespapa on LibraryThing 10 months ago
A reference book that reads like a novel with short but interesting entries about the plant worlds most intriguing and dangerous members. Near the end of the book we learn that Abraham Lincoln's mother, Nancy, died from White Snakeroot, aka "milk sickness" in Little Pigeon Creek, Indiana in 1834? I found out that many common garden plants can also be a threat to humans and pets, from Morning Glory seeds to Tulip bulbs. Who knew?
richardderus on LibraryThing 10 months ago
Rating: 3.5* of fiveThe Book Report: Bite-sized reports of the horrible horrible scary itchy deadly horrible doings of the Kingdom Plantae. Illustrated with beautiful woodcuts by [[Briony Morrow-Cribbs]], that are, by themselves, worth the price of the book.My Review: I swear I have never bathed so often as when I read this book. Hibiclens, pHisoHex, witch hazel, lavender water...every cleansing agent I possess...applied to every inch of my quite sizable person, at least three or four times for every plant I read about. Even my shoulder hair is falling out from over-washing. (There go the last long, wavy locks I'll ever have....)*Most* satisfyingly, the horrid, nasty, icky-ptoo-ptoo nonfood CORN is included in the book! (Yes it is too: pp38-39...comes in for harsh treatment because the body *can't use it* in kernel form! Take THAT corn-on-the-cobbers! Horrible stuff, corn on the cob. Oughta be banned.)So many awful horrible, itch-inducing theings described in one small place would normally mean stay the heck away from it, but Stewart really does a fine job of making her villains fascinating, if not sympathetic. Hope she writes a novel one day soon.
DanaJean on LibraryThing 10 months ago
A very interesting look into poisonous and dangerous plants that surround us in our everyday environment. I would recommend this to gardeners and anyone concerned for the continued well-being of our planet. Although the illustrations were skillfully done, I would have liked to have seen actual photographs of the plants discussed in its pages. No doubt there are books out there that do just that, but this was a nice, pocket-sized introduction to plants that we just might walk by everyday and not realize how close to death we are! haha.
woodge on LibraryThing 10 months ago
I enjoyed this handsome little compendium of plant facts and lore. But it's also scary too. There's more than a few plants in this book that I never want to come in contact with. One that is native to Australia called the stinging tree can leave you in pain for up to a year. I also learned about several very invasive species of plants that are taking over both land and sea. There was also poisonous plants that need only hours to kill you after ingesting; and plants good for getting high (mostly mildly) although some of them look very much like other plants that will kill you. Lesson learned? Just say no. This book includes handsome etchings.
krau0098 on LibraryThing 10 months ago
I saw this book and just thought it would be an interesting read. Besides who can resist the title "Wicked Plants"?Basically the book goes through many different types of plants that are "Wicked". This means they are either deadly, illegal, destructive, painful, intoxicating, or dangerous...you get the idea. There are two types of entries in the book. The first are pages dedicated to a single plant. These have an etching of the plant on one page and then a description of why the plant is "wicked" and some history about notable events that the plant has caused. Up in the top corner of the page it tells you a one word "why" of the plant's wickedness ("Destructive", "Deadly"). I liked these entries the best.The second type of entry is a section on a certain general types of plant. For example there is a section on deadly houseplants. These sections have small sub-sections of different types of plants that they go through; no pictures. I have to mention the print is pretty small in these general sections, might be hard to read for some people. The two types of entries alternate.The information is amusing and interesting, the etchings of the plants are beautiful; it is too bad they were not in color. I kind of wished that there were more interesting stories about individual plants. I really liked the entries on individual plants the best. I found myself skimming through the second type of entry (general entries briefly describing a ton of plants). These general sections didn't have any nice illustrations and shad very mall print and weren't nearly as interesting as the ones that focused on individual plants. I also thought the illustrations (not the etchings) left a bit to be desired; they were very amateurish and didn't add much to the book.The book itself is a work of art. The pages are all on off-white paper that looks like vellum, and there is a pretty silk ribbon in the binding for you to mark your spot in the book with.All in all I enjoyed the book. Not something you would read everyday but it would make a good coffee table book and it is interesting to read through the whole thing once. I am glad I read it.