Saturday, August 08, 2009

I recently saw a story on TV about Amy Stewart who is an expert on plants and has written a new book called “Wicked Plants.” The book is about poisonous plants and is full of interesting stories about how they can kill you. On of the most famous plants is White Snakeroot, which was responsible for the death of Abraham Lincoln’s mother. The snakeroot plant is eaten by cows and the poison is excreted in their milk which is deadly if ingested. It produces milk sickness. That’s what happened to Nancy Hanks Lincoln when Abe was only nine.

It’s a little scary to read the book and learn about all the common plants around that can be lethal. Azaleas, rhododendron and hydraneas can kill you. The common ground cover, yellow jasmine, is a killer and several children have died when mistaking it for honeysuckle and sucking the nectar from the poisonous bloom. Oleander is a common evergreen in the south and is lethal. Even the Johnson grass in my yard is laced with enough cyanide to kill a horse.

There are well known killers like Hemlock that finished off Socrates. Tiny amounts of a substance called ricin, found in the Castor bean, can be fatal and was made famous in 1978 when a KGB agent assassinated a British Journalist when only a pin prick from a sharp umbrella injected a drop of the stuff into the victim.

The most common poison is tobacco that has been legal for years. A number of illegal plants that are in common use like opium, peyote and marijuana can also result in death.

Some common plants like the poinsettia have been falsely accused of being a killer although it can be mildly toxic if ingested. English Ivy can very toxic and the ficus tree may be very allergenic for those sensitive to latex.

The book even has a chapter on carnivores, which are plants that eat animals. That’s the reason I bought a copy of the book. I thought the author might have something on a big animal eating plant like the ones I saw in Tarzan movies when I was a kid. None of the plants she describes eat anything larger than a fly or similar bugs. I was hoping to find a big carnivores jungle plant for the backyard so that I could sit on the porch and watch it devour deer. The deer would probably just outsmart it because they don’t even get sick from eating all the poisonous stuff the lady describes in her book and which I have growing in abundance. I just have to keep and eye on the grandkids.


Blogger jeff ludwick said...

It is a shame that asparagus, eggplant on toast and liver and onions are not on the lethal list. I would almost rather take my chances with snakeroot or an oleander than eat any of them although lots of people find all three tasty.

6:59 AM  

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