Wicked Plants

The Weed That Killed Abraham Lincoln's Mother & other Botanical Atrocities

by Amy Stewart, Briony Morrow-Cribbs and Jonathan Rosen

Hardcover, xvii, 235, [1] p., Workman Pub Co, List Price: $18.95 | purchase

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Title
Wicked Plants
Subtitle
The Weed That Killed Abraham Lincoln's Mother & other Botanical Atrocities
Author
Amy Stewart, Briony Morrow-Cribbs, et al

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Book Summary

Alphabetically arranged entries on dangerous and illegal plants contain traditional botanical illustrations, information on cultivation, and trivia about the damage these species have caused.

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Excerpt: Wicked Plants

Wicked Plants

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


Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill

Copyright © 2009 Amy Stewart
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-56512-683-1

Contents

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

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

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