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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

4.2 63
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


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

Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
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Read an Excerpt

Wicked Plants

By Amy Stewart

Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill

Copyright © 2009 Amy Stewart
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-56512-683-1

Chapter One



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


COMMON NAMES: Wolfsbane, monkshood, leopard's bane


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.

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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Wicked Plants: The Weed That Killed Lincoln's Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 63 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!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This books makes plants fun and interesting to learn about. Written with humor, Wicked Plants tells us about the darker side of our leafy friends; the shocking secrets of some very common plants wethought we knew so well. A suprisingly enjoyable and fast read.
feather_lashes More than 1 year ago
"We would never pick up a discarded coffee cup from the sidewalk and drink from it. But on a hike, we'll nibble unfamiliar berries as if they had been placed there for our appetites alone. We'll brew a medicinal tea from unrecognizable bark and leaves that a friend passes along, assuming that anything natural must be safe. 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 french door. This in spite of the fact that 3,900 people are injured annually by electrical outlets while 68,847 are poisoned by plants." Writer Amy Stewart begins this book by saying that her intent is not to scare people away from the outdoors, but to encourage knowledge and respect. I for one have a new found respect for the power of plant life now. I do a fair share of gardening, and I have to admit that I typically plant what looks cosmetically appealing (for the exception of my must-have butterfly plants!). Of course, I knew about poison ivy and all the other commonly known skin irritating plants. I even knew about the dangers of oleander and certain berries. But did I know that two plants I have had in my backyard secrete toxins? No. Did I know the vine that is was randomly growing along my fence is poisonous? NO! But now I do. I have to admit, as knowledgeable as I feel right now, I'm also slightly paranoid in light of the fact me and my boy are doing some primitive camping next month (perfect timing huh?). But it's all good. My only regret is that I borrowed Wicked Plants via audio from the library and I don't have a physical copy to include in my camping pack...but that can be rectified. If you are a gardener, nature-lover, or even if you just enjoy nurturing houseplants, then expand your knowledge by reading this book. Note: If you are interested in this book, I'd recommend against the audiobook if you have the option. From what I understand, there are etchings and drawings to help with identifying each plant that Ms. Stewart discusses, and audio just can't deliver this component. I listened to the audio and then had to research the visuals when I thought I recognized the description of a few plants that were in my yard. So although the audio is still effective, save yourself some time and start with the paperbook/ebook to begin with. Just a thought.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
YoungMensanBookParade More than 1 year ago
Review by Young Mensan Lila W, Age 8, Greater New York Mensa Wicked Plants: The A-Z of Plants that Kill, Maim, Intoxicate and Otherwise Offend is a factual guide book covering plants from the deadly and common Oleander to the painful Mala Mujer and everything else including Toxic Blue-Green Algae, and even Mandrake (for Harry Potter fans) – the profiles are so interesting, they contain Latin names, habitat, ‘native to’ information, common names and also their history told in interesting stories about each plant and flower. The book is filled with beautiful etchings (if that’s what you call them) and drawings, very useful information for anyone writing about nature, or just people that are curious. This book is way too scary for kids aged 1 – 7 years old, but anyone older than that would be okay.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
There is a lot of information in this little book. Some things I knew already, but many I did not know. Good to have on hand.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was an interesting and easy read with pretty illustrations.