You can garden for years without ever suffering the ill effects of a plant like monkshood, whose cheerful blue flowers conceal a toxin that brings on death by asphyxiation. You can hike for miles and never encounter the coyotillo shrub, whose berries cause a slow but deadly paralysis. But someday the plant kingdom’s dark side may make itself known to you. When it does, you should be prepared.
Wicked Plants (The Weed That Killed Lincoln’s Mother & Other Botanical Atrocities) by Amy Stewart is definitely one of my all-time favorite books. It’s a book that I stumbled upon while searching for books on gardening. I couldn’t believe that this book actually EXISTED. It was crammed in between these huge books about different types of flowers. But of course, where else would it be located in a bookstore? It’s not a work of fiction or a biography. It’s the truth about plants. And I think that it would make an excellent Halloween read for anyone searching for a creepy book this month.
Wicked Plants covers hundreds of different plants ranging from the illegal (like marijuana and opium poppy) to the destructive (like killer algae) to the downright deadly plants (like oleander). It’s packed full of information on each plant’s family, habitat, and signs and symptoms if you think you’ve been exposed. But Amy Stewart is quick to point out that if you think you’ve been poisoned, you should contact a poison control center instead of taking the time to read this book.I really love Amy Stewart’s writing style. It reminds me of one of my other favorite authors, Lemony Snicket (Daniel Handler). Except instead of warning readers that this book does not have a happy ending, Amy Stewart warns readers that this information is very REAL and shouldn’t be taken lightly. A plant can easily destroy a person’s life.
That being said, her choice to include exciting examples of humans coming into contact with these dangerous plants is what really makes this book stand out from the rest. For instance, in 1856, aconite was mistaken for horseradish and accidently fed to (and killed) two priests at a dinner party. And in 1691, eight girls were suspected of witchcraft in Salem, Massachusetts because they were having convulsions and babbling incoherently. Many years later it was discovered that the girls probably came into contact with an ergot plant and were just exhibiting the symptoms of being exposed.I also really love the artwork in this book. It both creeps me out and fascinates me at the same time. It perfectly matches the style of Amy Stewart’s writing and captures the attention of anyone who loves a great villain.Definitely pick up this book and at least give it a thumb through. Even if you have no interest whatsoever in plants. I guarantee you that this book will fascinate you into reading every page.
Visit the official website for Wicked Plants here.
Etchings by Briony Morrow-Cribbs
Drawings by Jonathon Rosen