This past weekend I traveled to San Francisco’s Conservatory of Flowers to see the Wicked Plants exhibit. (These are not plants from the musical Wicked, in case you are wondering.) 🙂 The title refers to the infamous plants in Amy Stewart’s latest book, which include include oleander, opium poppy, castor bean, and poison hemlock.
Remarkably, many “wicked plants” exist right under our nose, both indoors and out. The book and the exhibit are done in a fun yet creepy way, which draws people in and tricks them into learning “stuff,” which is pretty cool. Most people at the exhibit were deep in concentration, reading the information and studying the plants. Ominous music played in the background, complete with creaking doors, screeching bats and thumping heartbeats.
After leaving the exhibit, you’ll definitely want to buy the book, which is divided into sections titled deadly, illegal, intoxicating, destructive, painful, offensive, and dangerous. The reading is as exciting as the titles!
In the beginning of the book, Ms. Stewart makes several excellent points. For instance, parents worried about the safety of a new baby will carefully plug electrical outlets, but ignore the houseplant in the kitchen. Or people who brew a tea from an unknown bark or berries found in the woods, believing them to be “natural,” that would never dream of drinking out of a coffee cup found on the sidewalk. Not mentioned in the book are the crazy folks who collect mushrooms (a fungus, not a plant). Don’t ever do this. It’s just silly! Mushrooms aren’t that expensive. (i.e. the cost of a new kidney, liver or funeral).
When terms like “toxic,” “deadly” and “poisonous” are used, what does this mean? If you eat one of these plants, does it mean instant death? Sickness? Vomiting? Nausea? And how much of the plant does one have to eat? Which part? The root, seed, flower or leaf? The answer is yes, no, sometimes, maybe and depends (but not in that order). tee hee. 🙂 Every year, over 68,847 people are injured by plants. This is why you might wanna read Wicked Plants or see the exhibit in SF.
By now you may be feeling stressed and ask, “How do I know if it’s a wicked plant? How can I identify one? What if I’m in the woods alone and hungry?” Do I REALLY need to say it? NEVER pick or eat anything you didn’t plant yourself, and don’t trust friends who think they know what they are doing. Even as a horticulturalist, I wouldn’t do this. Okay, I have done this and I’m probably just lucky. Anyways, just DON’T do it. And, teach children not to put plants in their mouths, and keep a close eye on them in the yard.
If you have a young child and/or indoor pet, avoid peace lily, philodendron, dieffenbachia, aloe, kalanchoe and ficus. Sadly, these are very common houseplants. Learn what they look like and avoid buying them. Outdoors, avoid planting oleander, larkspur, delphinium, sweet peas, sago palms, daffodil and tulip bulbs and yew trees.
If you are ever worried that someone has eaten a poisonous plant, call poison control at (800)-222-1222 (in the U.S.) or seek immediate medical attention. If you live in another country, look up the number and put it on your refrigerator for quick reference. In closing, if you want to experience the Wicked Plants exhibit, you have until October 30th (2011).