Customer Reviews: Wicked Plants: The Weed That Killed Lincoln's Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities
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"Wicked Plants" is a pocket-sized 235-page book that is very entertaining, enlightening (for example, red kidney beans are poisonous if not cooked thoroughly), and easy to read. The author covers some of the common plants, fungus and other related genre of the natural world that are deadly, dangerous, or just irritating to humans and animals. She also talks about some of the myths and truths associated with some of these plants.

I consider "Wicked Plants" an excellent reference except for two drawbacks. First, it doesn't have an index. If, for example, you remember that XXX was dangerous you'd have to flip through the entire book to find it. Second, there are no color photos for the plants discussed, only pencil sketches are shown.

In summary, this book is not a complete reference nor is it a typical book either. However, "Wicked Plants" balances entertainment, fact, and myths about plants and related "items" of the natural world in one neat little package.

I gave this book three stars because of the absence of an index and no color pictures. However, I still consider this a worthwhile purchase. If it had these items, I would have given it 4-1/2 to 5 stars. If you have a Kindle, then the Kindle edition would resolve the lack of an index because of its search capability.

Since I intend to use this book as one of several valuable references in my library, I am sharing below the alphabetical list of the plants or fungus outlined in the 2009 version of the hardcover book that I created for myself. Please note that this list is not all inclusive as it excludes the scientific names and the "meet the relatives" plants that were mentioned throughout the text. This list is also messy due to the lack of tabbing ability in this review. Where the item is located in two places, I separated the page numbers with a comma. For instance, in the below example Aconite is located on pages 1 and 127.

Absinthe 58
Ackee 41
Aconite 1, 127
Agwa de Bolivia 60
Aloe 164
Alstroemeria 126
Angel's Trumpet 103
Ant Plant 211
Ayahuasca Vine 7
Azalea 116
Bermuda Grass 85
Betel Nut 11
Birthworts 181
Black Locust 117
Bladderworts 179
Bleeding Heart 125
Blister Bush 96
Blue-Gree Algae 187
Bottlebrush 85
Burdock 218
Burning Bush 201
Butterworts 179
Calabar Bean 18
Cannabis Vodka 60
Carolina Jessamine 119
Carrot Family 73
Casca Bark 19
Cashew 40
Cashew Familiy 71
Cashew Tree 159
Cassava 41
Castor Bean 15
Caulerpa Taxifolia (algae) 79
Celery 96
Cerbera Odollam 177
Chacruna 7
Chamise 202
Christmas Cherry 29
Christmas Rose 118
Chrysanthemum 127
Coca 21
Cocklebur 218
Cogon Grass 89
Cola Tonic 61
Colchicum 117
Corn 38
Corpse Flower 202
Cortinarius 48
Cowhage 102
Coyotillo 25
Curare 3
Daffodil 164
Daphne 117
Darnel 91
Deadly Nightshade 31
Death Camas 35
Death Cap 48
Delphinium 125
Devil's Claw 217
Dieffenbachia 28
Diffenbachia 164
Diviner's Sage 136
Dodder 147
Draco 205
Dumb Cane 28
Dwarf Mistletoe 191
Dwarf Nettle 171
Elderberry 40
English Ivy 28
Ergot 43
Eucalyptus Trees 201
False Morel 48
Ficus Tree 29
Figs 210
Finger Cherry 103
Fly Mushroom 48
Foxglove 118
Foxtail 218
Gas Plant 201
Giant Hogweed 95
Giant Salvinia 148
Gorse 190
Grapple Plant 217
Grass Burr 219
Grass Pea 37
Habanero Chile 51
Hellebore 118
Henbane 55
Herbal Remedies 97
Himalayan Cedar 85
Hyacinth 126
Hydrangea 118
Hydrilla 147
Iboga 63
Inky Cap 49
Jerusalem Cherry 29
Jimson Weed 67
Johnson Grass 91
Jumping Cholla 216
Juniper 85
Kalanchoe 164
Kentucky Bluegrass 91
Khat 75
Kombe 4
Kratom 136
Kudzu 87
Lacquer Tree 159
Lantana 119
Larkspur 125
Lenten Rose 118
Lillies 164
Lilly-of-the-Valley 125
Limes 96
Lobelia 119
Magic Mushroom 49
Mala Mujer 93
Manchineel Tree 99
Mandrake 105
Mango Tree 159
Marijuana 109, 165
May Wine 60
Mexican Jumping Beans 210
Mezcal 59
Milkbush 29
Milky Mangrove 102
Mokihana 97
Morning Glory 137
Mouse Trap Tree 217
Mulberry 84
Nandia 165
Nettle Familiy 72
Nettle Tree 171
Nightshade Family 71
Oleander 113
Olive Tree 84
Ongaonga 171
Opimum Poppy 121
Pampas Grass 90, 201
Parsley Family 73
Peace Lily 28
Peacock Flower 129
Pencil Cactus 29
Pepper Tree 84
Peruvian Lily 126
Peyote Cactus 133
Philodendron 28
Pitcher Plants 180
Poison Arrow Plant 5
Poison Hemlock 139
Poison Ivy 157
Poison Oak 157
Poison Sumac 101, 157
Potato 41
Prairie Cordgrass 90
Pterocarpus Tree 205
Purple Loosestrife 143
Purple Nutsedge 148
Rafflesia 202
Ragweed 83
Ratbane 151
Rattan 211
Red Kidney Bean 40
Rhododendron 116
Rhubarb 39
Rosary Pea 155
Rubber Tree 29, 190
Sago Palm 161
Sambuca 60
San Pedro Cactus 136
Sand Burr 219
Sandbox Tree 189
Sangre de Drago 205
Sassy Bark 19
Skunk Cabbage 203
Slobber Weed 204
Southern Cut Grass 90
Spurge Family 72
Squirting Cucumber 190
Stgrychnine Tree 173
Stinging Nettle 171
Stinging Tree 167
Stinking Benjamin 204
Stinking Hellebore 203
Stinking Iris 203
Strangler Figs 149
Strychinine Tree 19
Strychinine Vine 4
Sweet Pea 126
Tanghin Poison-Nut 19
Tansy Mustard 102
Teddy Bear Cholla 216
Tequila 59
Timothy Grass 91
Titan Arum 202
Tobacco 183
Tonic Water 61
Tree Nettle 171
Tulip 126
Tulip 164
Unicorn Plant 217
Upas Tree 5, 19
Valley Oak 209
Venus Flytraps 180
Voodoo Lily 204
Water Hemlock 193
Water Hyacinth 197
Whistling Thorn Acacia 207
White Plumed Grevillea 203
White Snakeroot 213
Witch Hazel 191
Yellow Jessamine 119
Yew 221
Yew Pine 84
Yopo 137
Zubrowka 59
99 comments|309 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
I'm a huge fan of Amy Stewart, and I've read everything she's written, including her bimonthly gardening column in our local newspaper and her writing at Garden Rant, so I was thrilled when I heard about her latest book, Wicked Plants.

I'm a pro gardener and a total plant geek, so reading all about the wicked deeds of the plants I know and love (and learning some new ones as well!) was a blast. But you don't have to know or even care much about plants to enjoy this book.

Amy blends the human stories and the plant details with such humor and depth that even the black-thumbed among us will enjoy reading. As she says, "I looked for plants that had an interesting backstory. There had to be a victim - a body count."

She goes on, "These are plants you do not want to meet in a dark alley." Indeed not. When I read about Mussolini's guys chasing Communists down the streets with bottles of castor oil, a laxative made from the beautiful but deadly Castor Bean, I just howled with laughter. Earlier, I'd read with bated breath how the KGB injected a tiny pellet of ricin, from the same plant, into Communist defectors to murder them. I think I'd prefer being chased by the Fascists!

The book itself is gorgeously done, with hand-drawn copper etchings of the plants, brown detailing on the pages which makes it look deliciously ancient, and one of those cool ribbon bookmarks. It would make a great gift book, and indeed, I've already bought three copies to give to friends - it's just that nice of a book.

I'm lucky enough to live locally to Amy Stewart, and she invited me to do a video review of the book in her Wicked Plants-inspired poison garden. In the video, Amy introduces us to a few of the botanical miscreants she writes about. Check it out!
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on July 18, 2009
If you believe your home is your castle, fortified against a world of dangers, you might want to reconsider. Amy Stewart's new book, "Wicked Plants: A Book of Botanical Atrocities," gives us a delightful tour of the perils thriving right under our nose.

"Wicked Plants" is a nicely illustrated, upbeat examination of vegetation that can kill, addict, torment and torture. There's nothing benign about that philodendron wending its steady, picturesque way around your mantle. As for that undercooked kidney bean, eat five like it and you'll think you ate a peck of rotten clams. Nature knows no shame. Heart failure, paralysis, vomiting, psychosis, skin ulcers and other horrors, including death, can be induced from plants in your own backyard. Every mystery writer in search of the perfect murder should buy a copy of "Wicked Plants."

Amy Stewart's storytelling talents, combined with her subject matter, make her the Stephen King of gardening lore. About hemlock, she writes:

"The death that hemlock delivers is, from outward appearances, an easy one. Mr. Gow [his children accidentally made him a sandwich with poison hemlock greens] stumbled about drunkenly, his limbs gradually became paralyzed, and eventually the poison stopped his heart and lungs. The doctor attending the death reported that `the Intellect was perfectly clear until shortly before death.'"

While most gardeners pore over seed catalogs, anti-gardeners gather indisputable arguments for inertia from Stewart's book. In her chapter on offensive plants and social misfits, she points to the stench of the skunk cabbage, the wet dog scent of the stinking benjamin, the repugnant emissions of the rare corpse flower. Ingest a bit of slobber weed and prepare for the onslaught of a couple of pints of saliva. The betel nut, which 400 million people chew as a stimulant, produces a red saliva that stains the streets of countries where it grows. Plants aren't just a nuisance, they are deadly.

Instead of giving new parents another set of crib sheets for the newborn, consider this book. It doesn't hurt for parents to know that they were wrong about the poinsettia but in the dark about the potentially fatal effects of the bleeding heart and azaleas now in bloom. By the way, never nibble yew. Every part of it except the fetching red berries is poisonous. Called the "graveyard tree" in England, it does produce an extract used to make the cancer treatment drug Taxol.

You'll read about addictive and mind-altering plants and fungi, the invasive plants clogging our fields and waterways and a killer algae smothering ocean floors. These plants are wicked and indestructible. The hearty coca plant, for instance, produces three crops a year and the alkaloids in the leaves produce a natural pesticide. Stewart writes that Freud tried cocaine and reported that he felt "unbelievably well" as if "everything had been erased."

Stewart made a stop at the Peabody Essex Museum on Thursday and will be at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden on May 31. At the back of her book she lists a number of poison gardens, including gardens in Philadelphia and Ithaca that are associated with medical schools. She also tends her own poison garden at home in northern California.
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on April 13, 2012
I am currently reading this book "Wicked Plants" in the ebook format. I enjoy non-fiction books of all kinds and as a gardener and nature lover, I was looking forward to the information in the book. As mentioned by others, it's a bit of a reference-type book, but the descriptions of the wickec plants include anecdotes that are quite entertaining. My problem with the book is that when they shifted it to an ebook, they did not format it properly. The plates for the sketches of the plants are not in the same place they would be in the actual book so you cannot tell for sure what plant you are looking at when you get to it. The caption for each sketch is left behind in the text, wherever that might be so there are random sentences describing the plate in a larger font suddenly in the text, then several pages later comes the illustration. Sometimes illustrations are lumped together, 2 or three, and then you really cannot be sure of what you're looking at. It does not seem to matter how large or small you set the font, the plates are simply not inserted into the text properly, but stuck at the end of sections. It kind of defeats the purpose of having the sketches at all. If I had a choice, I would not buy this version, but get the hard copy.
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This is a thorough book, but don't take that the wrong way! It's full of charm and a sense of history, but it's really a book for the imagination. You will marvel at so many perilous things nature and pre-FDA entrepreneurs have in store for the unfortunate victims in this book. I don't want to ruin the surprises, but there's a lot of misfortune in this book!

Plenty of illustrations and stories, this makes a great lounge book for hosts who want a guest to have something to do for a few idle minutes.

The writing is intelligent and the topic is novel. I really appreciate that this is a carefully crafted and well thought out project, and you should come away wanting to meet the creative author.

But if anyone in your house wants to poison you, you better not leave this out!
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on April 5, 2010
A very entertaining book, and highly readable, five stars for that classification. The literary references are fascinating, and many of the minutiae are obscure but interesting.
However, as a physician and scientist, I found a number of loose ends that I would relate to the author's failure to be sufficiently critical when evaluating sources. Three stars for verification and detail.
Some of these appear to be just careless, as in listing eucalyptus as a pyromaniac, and citing the famous Oakland, California fire. It's true that eucalyptus wood has high calory content, and burns, and that Oakland spent a lot of money removing eucalyptus after the fire. On the other hand, that campaign was mostly hearsay (California Oaks and pine, both profusely represented, also burn, and often benefit from a fire for germination), and probably stimulated by the California Native Plant Society's campaign to eliminate non-natives...
In a more practical vein, the numerous descriptions of toxic reactions could have been far more precise without lengthening the book. One has the impression that many of the effects cited were from others without medical experience, sort of like passing a rumor around a circle of people and seeing how it changes. A shame in a book that spends so much time on pharmacology.
The other major frustration is the lack of an index. The book is rife with references to common and taxonomic names of toxic plants, and cross references to related plants... I would love to use it as a reference for further reading (when I found details wanting)... but the only way to find a plant again is to read the book again... this is a shame for a book that could be quite useful as a preliminary reference.
But for all of that it was thoughtful and entertaining!
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on May 24, 2011
The description of this book is really poor. How is this book different from the "Wicked Plants: The Weed That Killed Lincoln's Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities" which I own and like? All I know it has 13 more pages (236 vs. 223). Is this the second, improved edition that readers were awaiting? In particular, does it have an index, the often mentioned shortage of the other book? Why the description of the book does not even mention the earlier book, even though the book cover is almost identical?
How about the illustrations by Briony Morrow-Cribbs? Are they included? If so, put the credit where it belongs.

What is even more strange, Amy Stewart's web site does not mention this publication. Neither does the official page of Timber Press, the alleged publisher of the book.
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on April 3, 2013
The concept of this book is very promising, taking something seemingly familiar (plants) and regaling the reader with tales of how the protagonist's dark side (or just salient qualities in the general formula) has either caught us unaware or influenced history in possibly unfamiliar ways. Unfortunately, this book largely fails in developing this entertaining formula. The tales are usually very short and poorly developed. If another utilitarian but less entertaining goal is just to compile a compendium of toxic plants, it is reasonably complete but terribly disorganized. There doesn't seem to be any logical order to the presentation aside from slight grouping. Many plants are mentioned repeatedly throughout the book rather than having a logically placed single expose. To top things off, perhaps in an attempt to justify the "wicked" adjective, I find the descriptions of toxic effects often exaggerated. And, not holding back, I think the scattered anthropomorphic sketches are just plain bad.

If you like the general formula, I recommend Sam Kean's books about the periodic table and DNA.
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on December 23, 2009
I saw this book and just thought it would be an interesting read. Besides who can resist the title "Wicked Plants"?

Basically the book goes through many different types of plants that are "Wicked". This means they are either deadly, illegal, destructive, painful, intoxicating, or get the idea. There are two types of entries in the book. The first are pages dedicated to a single plant. These have an etching of the plant on one page and then a description of why the plant is "wicked" and some history about notable events that the plant has caused. Up in the top corner of the page it tells you a one word "why" of the plant's wickedness ("Destructive", "Deadly"). I liked these entries the best.

The second type of entry is a section on a certain general types of plant. For example there is a section on deadly houseplants. These sections have small sub-sections of different types of plants that they go through; no pictures. I have to mention the print is pretty small in these general sections, might be hard to read for some people. The two types of entries alternate.

The information is amusing and interesting, the etchings of the plants are beautiful; it is too bad they were not in color. I kind of wished that there were more interesting stories about individual plants. I really liked the entries on individual plants the best. I found myself skimming through the second type of entry (general entries briefly describing a ton of plants). These general sections didn't have any nice illustrations and shad very mall print and weren't nearly as interesting as the ones that focused on individual plants. I also thought the illustrations (not the etchings) left a bit to be desired; they were very amateurish and didn't add much to the book.

The book itself is a work of art. The pages are all on off-white paper that looks like vellum, and there is a pretty silk ribbon in the binding for you to mark your spot in the book with.

All in all I enjoyed the book. Not something you would read everyday but it would make a good coffee table book and it is interesting to read through the whole thing once. I am glad I read it.
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on July 13, 2009
Wicked Plants by Amy Stewart is a fascinating if slightly creepy look at poisonous and harmful plants, some that may be in your yard, house, or even in you rrefrigerator ! First of all, I have to say I love the feel of this book. Too many publishers have forgotten that part of the joy of reading is holding the volume in your hands. Plants is a small hardcover without dust jacket with engraving on the front cover giving it the feel of a late 19th century volume; it even has a ribbon bookmark! It has a charming look inside as well with wickedly humorous engravings drawn with a delicate hand. Most people know about the hazards of deadly nightshade and monkshood, but who knew that corn and red kidney beans could cause serious illness if not cooked/handled correctly? Not all plants are necessarily hazardous to humans, also included are kudzu, killer algae, as well as plants that will make readers' skin crawl. As my librarian said, creative minds would have a hard time imagining the strangeness of Mother Nature, like silly-string look-a-like parasite dodder. Whether the plants are exploding or oozing, some of them are downright weird. One small complaint: I've always heard that apple seeds and peach pits contain arsenic, but neither are addressed in this volume. This is a book I would love to own and keep on my shelf to refer to when buying new plants or just to read aloud some of the stories to freak out friends and family.
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