Wicked Plants: the Weed That Killed Lincoln’s Mother
and Other Botanical Atrocities
by Amy Stewart, with illustrations by Briony Morrow-Cribbs and Jonathon Rosen
The moral of this story, boys and girls, is: never, ever run willy-nilly through the garden putting vegetation in your mouth! What doesn’t kill you can make you itch, twitch, vomit, or go crazy. Seriously, I knew that Johnson grass was a pest, but I certainly did not know that its new green shoots contain enough cyanide to kill a horse. I swear I will never go outside again without wearing garden gloves.
This fascinating little book is a compendium of nightmare plants, including some very common garden friends such as lenten rose, hydrangea, lantana, and Carolina jessamine. Don’t eat these things. And remember when we were hippies and wore those necklaces made from beautiful seeds and berries? When it started going around that the red berries were poisonous, we all thought it was a conspiracy to make us dress better. Turns out those red berries were the deadly seed of the rosary pea, native to tropical Africa and Asia. Yikes.
Wicked Plants is wonderfully designed, beginning with its printed cover. Inside are beautiful etchings from Briony Morrow-Cribbs and macabre little drawings from Jonathon Rosen. The pages are printed with an all-over schmutz, as if the book has been previously handled by a gardener. Although it suffers from the lack of an index, it’s small enough to be thumbed through when you need to know the name of the Australian stinging tree, a mere brush with which can cause unbearable pain for up to a year (dendrocnide moroides, common name gympie gympie).
As for Nancy Hanks Lincoln, she died of milk sickness from drinking the tainted milk of cows who had been grazing on white snakeroot. –Pam