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Wicked Plants
The Weed That Killed Lincoln's Mother & Other Botanical Atrocities

By Amy Stewart

When I was choosing the book for the October Book Club pick, I thought...oh how perfect this book on Wicked Plants would be for the season of ghouls and goblins and Halloween.  At UCLA, I was a History major, and I think there is some connection between my love for the stories of days gone by and my attraction to this book.  If you've read my reviews for awhile, then you may have gleaned that I tend towards the visual.  This book...all text.
Mostly a compendium of plant stories, it is organized by plant name.  Each section generally starts with a fascinating plant-specific anecdote, that Amy has drawn from history, medicine, science and legend (like the one about the BBC journalist Georgi Markov's true tale of being murdered by someone puncturing his thigh with a poisonous extract of Castor Bean--and using an umbrella to do it whilst the man was standing on a bridge in pubic! p.15.  Or the story about the 400 million people on earth who chew on Betel Nut, which turns their saliva red and requires them to spit, so sidewalks worldwide are stained red p.11)
Once you've been captivated by the bizarre and intrigue, Author Amy Stewart provides some physical description of the plants, some info about what part of the plant is problematic (like how Coyotillo on p.25 contains compounds that cause paralysis), then she places the plant in today's world and includes a sidebar of the plant's relatives.  Each section is entertaining.  Some of it is alarming, and all of it is totally enlightening.
While working on this review, I found I often had to share out loud what I was reading and universally my co-workers were shocked, stunned, and all-around 'floored' by the stories and facts.  I've been around plants and plant people pretty much all of my life and still found every bit of the contents of this book was new to me.  I guess if you work with plants long enough, you eventually get exposed to the darker side of them.  Some of this stuff sounded like it came straight out of a movie.  Since all of it is based in fact, it is that much more mind-blowing to read.
The book is a little collection of murder mysteries that are all about plants.  It is surprising how many well-known people have been killed or harmed by a plant! Teens love these stories, btw because they are a treasure trove of quotable facts.
The subhead of the book ('The Weed that Killed Lincoln's Mother') inspired such curiosity, it had me googling the answer before I even cracked it open.  I won't spoil the surprise by giving away the answer, so you'll have to either read the book or Google it like I did 😊  It's a good clue to how interesting the entire book is.
Plants are organized alphabetically, each emblazoned with its scarlet letter of:
Deadly, Intoxicating, Dangerous, Illegal, Painful, Destructive or just plain Offensive.
Wicked Plants is a treasure trove of blood curdling botany, embraced by a slew of menacingly beautiful botanical illustrations.  While there are no colorful, urban jungle-ish photos, the book makes a fun campfire and slumber party read for sure.  Like me, you will want to read it in the company of others so you can call out the almost unbelievable tidbits you are reading.
Happy Reading.  Siri Kay Jostad


You will be WARNED on every page, in every way when you read Wicked Plants.


  • Don't be afraid of plants even the ones with ill-effects.  Just treat them with guarded respect

  • Plants can nourish and heal...and they can also destroy

  • Do NOT experiment with unfamiliar plants (as is demonstrated over and over with the historical examples in Wicked Plants)

  • You will become an insider to the Secrets of the Plant World

  • A nice reference for plants to watch out for


Amy Stewart is the author of 10 books and lives in Portland with her husband, Scott Brown, a rare book dealer.  They own an independent book store called Eureka Books (

This book, Wicked Plants, has been developed into a National traveling exhibit that terrifies children at science museums across the United States.  For the schedule, visit

Amy travels the United States as a public speaker whose spirited lectures have inspired and entertained audiences at college campuses such as Cornell and Harvard, corporate offices like Google, conferences, book festivals, botanical gardens, bookstores and libraries.

Other books by Amy Stewart

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