Thursday, May 5, 2011

Book Review: Wicked Plants

Let me tell you all about this charming little book I found while making my rounds at the library. It comes in an attractive green color and elegantly decorated in black and gold designs.

It’s called Wicked Plants: The Weed That Killed Lincoln’s Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities, a title worthy of Lemony Snicket.

This was a fascinating, if slightly terrifying read. The plants listed in this book make The Happening look like a Pixar movie. You have the usual suspects, such as Nightshade, Hemlock, and Strychnine. But mixed in are more unusual choices, such as the Habanero pepper, Kudzu (but it does make such lovely shapes), and blue-green algae. The author, Amy Stewart, takes a gleeful tone as she discusses these plants, describing effects that are positively cringe-worthy.

She also seems to take glee in pointing out the every day vegetables we eat that are related to these poisonous plants, and can be poisonous themselves if eaten at the wrong times (i.e. potatoes, those lovely delicious nightshades we all know and love).

My only criticism is the subtle change of tone the author takes when she reaches the tobacco plant. She verges on preaching, and this part reads more like a PSA about the dangers of tobacco rather than a faintly amused listing of a terrible plant’s properties. It was jarring.

The book overall is a useful sort of encyclopedia for anyone who wants to have plants and doesn’t want to get rashes, seizures, or dead pets in the mix, for someone writing a murder mystery, or for Stephen King.

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