Wicked Plants: The A-Z of Plants That Kill, Maim, Intoxicate and Otherwise Offend (Anglais) Relié – 19 juin 2010
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The plants are presented in alphabetical order, and each is put into one of 7 categories. Several, you'll see, fall into more than one category:
....DEADLY. One example is the castor bean. In castor oil, the poisonous ingredient is processed out of the plant. But ricin, found in the seeds, is the poison used to kill Georgi Markov in 1978. Remember the soviet defector killed by a jab from an umbrella?
....ILLEGAL. The peyote cactus is in this category, though I believe the Supreme Court has given religious dispensation. It's actually pretty difficult to find in the desert now, because it's slow-growing and has been over-harvested.
....INTOXICATING. Speaking of plants you may grow at home, the Morning Glory has a surprise. It's seeds have small quantities of LSD.
....DANGEROUS. My Mom has planted Lobelia in her spring garden. But probably not the variety nicknamed "vomitwort".
....PAINFUL. Celery – yes, celery – is dangerous to eat in large quantities before sunbathing. It has "phototoxic compounds" which react to the sunlight.
....DESTRUCTIVE. Even I've heard of kudzu, introduced in the southern U.S. to abate soil erosion. Works great, except it never stops growing and is nearly indestructible: "This vine covers seven million acres in the United States. The damage it has caused is estimated in the hundreds of millions."
....OFFENSIVE. You don't want to plant the Squirting Cucumber in your garden. This juice of this species will cause vomiting and diarrhea. AND, "it's two-inch-long fruits are famous for bursting when ripe, squirting a slimy, mucuslike juice and seeds almost twenty feet away."
I very much like the book's presentation. The pages are not totally white, but shaded as if it's a well-used gardener's notebook. Plants are shown by charming copper etchings by Briony Morrow-Cribbs. There are also some illustrations by Jonathon Rosen.
The book doesn't have an index, but there's an extensive bibliography.
Stewart's writing style is breezy and "Wicked Plants" is a lot of fun.
If you haven't run across her books before, she wrote a 2011 companion book,
Wicked Bugs: The Louse That Conquered Napoleon's Army & Other Diabolical Insects
And I enjoyed her 2013 foray into "The Plants that Create the World's Great Drinks",
The Drunken Botanist
Wicked plants feature plants from all over the world with information about why they are toxic, how this has affected its evolution and human history. We also get interesting anecdotes about events that have made these plants infamous. This is a must read for plant geeks!
There are many kinds of vegetative wickedness described in this book: deadly and poisonous; painful; invasive; and illegal, for example.
The writing is excellent- I read it cover to cover, as if it were a novel, and learned a lot. There may be a bit of unseemly relish in the way the effects of various of these wicked plants are described- did you know that foxtail burrs can work their way into dogs' brains??? Euew! -Of course, that's part of what makes it so fascinating.
It's a very pretty book, and possibly emphasizes that more than being a reliable reference; there's no index, for example, and while many of the entries are in alphabetical order, some are gathered together under various headings. It's intended, I think, more for reading and browsing than for serious reference work, though the information is solid.
I bought this after reading and loving the author's "Drunken Botanist" book, and it lived up to my expectations.
But- it may well make you a bit paranoid about what is in the gardens and woods!
Other reviewers have mentioned the wonderful illustrations, tinted pages, and, Oh yes, the built-in bookmark.and other features that make this book into a jewel of the bookmakers trade even before you read a single word. Then you read that first word and you are hooked.
Her style is easy to read, very clear, with little excess verbiage, and in jargon-free English, but she packs a lot of information into such a small book. I have been an avid reader of garden books for over forty years, so I thought I knew a lot about common plant poisons, but I found new information on almost every page. I found that it was impossible to put it down until I had read the last page.
I loved this books and I intend to read as much of her other books as I can find.