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Wicked Plants: The Weed that Killed Lincoln’s Mother & Other Botanical Atrocities

Wicked Plants: The Weed that Killed Lincoln’s Mother  & Other Botanical Atrociti
Amy Stewart
Algonquin Books
Publication Date: 

cloth, 223 pp., $18.95

This is a fascinating book, frightening yet funny. Many of these plants are widely known as potentially poisonous, but others come as a surprise. Corn, potatoes, beans, and cashews could all cause unpleasant reactions under certain circumstances. Stewart has written essays, commentaries, and four books on the “perils and pleasures of the natural world.”

Stewart titles her introduction “Consider yourself warned.” The plants are labeled dangerous, intoxicating, deadly, painful, destructive, or just illegal. Even with the direst of warnings, Stewart’s humor shows through. She includes many fascinating stories of how some of these plants have been used or misused. With many of the plants, the author includes a section entitled “meet the relatives.” The sketches and illustrations by Briony Morrow-Cribbs and Jonathon Rosen add a macabre touch. For example, there is a fascinating illustration of a fatal fungus, showing a hand with mushrooms literally growing out of the palm and long roots extending down out the back. This is an informative and intriquing book, spiced with Stewart’s special brand of dark humor.

— Joan Richards, volunteer, Chicago Botanic Garden