Saturday, August 27, 2011

Wicked Plants: A Book Review





Who knew plants could be so wicked?  This book contains the terrors of the plant world. Be afraid. Be very afraid.   

My favorite plant was the dangerous Jimsom weed, which causes all sorts of annoying symptoms when ingested. The Jamestown settlers fed it to some British soldiers, to get the upper hand on ‘em during a scuffle. Clever colonists. Also interesting was the caster bean, whose poisonous extract was used to kill a communist in the 1970s. And how ‘bout those crazy poisonous ordeal beans, used to determine guilt within the West African criminal justice system? 

That’s what I liked about this book. It's not a dry encyclopedia of wicked plants. Every plant has its own wicked story. 

Did you know there are male plants and female plants, and male plants are the ones responsible for all our allergy problems? Are we really surprised, ladies? 

Did you know atropine (extracted from plants like Deadly Nightshade), which causes various horrible symptoms when ingested, is sometimes added to addictive painkillers to keep patients from getting hooked? Well done, laboratory chemists! But I can’t help but wonder if there’s a better way… 

Anyhow, the plants in "Wicked Plants" are organized alphabetically, but I would have preferred if they had been organized categorically first, like Destructive, Illegal, Intoxicating, Offensive, Painful, Dangerous, Deadly… and then organized alphabetically within those categories. I like to read about my plants categorically. And an index at the end would have been helpful.  Also, it contains lots of cool drawings and etchings, but I still found myself Googling real pictures of the plants to get a better idea. 

On that note, I Googled this offensive plant called “slobber weed,” which, when ingested, causes a person to drool two or more pints of saliva, and Google gave me a bunch of pictures of hippies “drooling” over their marijuana. Slobber weed.  It's frustrating, not knowing what this slobber weed looks like.

Yes, this was a swell read. And I had no prior interest in plants.  I just picked it up on a whim. Recommend you do the same.


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