End Notes - Wicked Plants: The Weed That Killed Lincoln's Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities - Amy Stewart

Wicked Plants: The Weed That Killed Lincoln's Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities - Amy Stewart (2009)

End Notes


Throughout the twentieth century, syrup of ipecac was recommended as a treatment for accidental poisoning. Ipecac is made from the roots of Psychotria ipecacuanha, a flowering shrub in Brazil. The syrup proved to be a powerful emetic, causing violent vomiting that might bring up the poison. Ipecac syrup eventually made its way into the medicine chest of every family with young children as a remedy for accidental poisoning.

However, the American Academy of Pediatrics and other medical groups now discourage the use of ipecac except if recommended by a doctor or poison control center. The syrup is abused by people with bulimia; in fact, it contributed to the death of singer Karen Carpenter. Ipecac has also been used in a few high-profile poisoning cases in which parents poison their children to get attention, a syndrome called Munchausen syndrome by proxy. Doctors also have more effective treatments for poisoning cases and believe that home use of ipecac may delay better treatment and mask symptoms. Instead, they recommend calling a poison control center or seeking immediate medical attention.




Briony Morrow-Cribbs creates copper etchings, fine bound books, and ceramic “cabinets of curiosity” that reflect her fascination with the ways in which the rational language of science meets the grotesque and absurd natural world. A graduate of the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design, Morrow-Cribbs’s work has been exhibited around the world. She resides in Brattleboro, Vermont, and is represented by the Davidson Gallery in Seattle. She is also the cofounder of Twin Vixen Press.

Briony shares her name with a wicked plant, B. cretica. Native to central and eastern Europe, this sturdy, twining vine produces red berries that cause vomiting, dizziness, and even respiratory failure. White bryony, B. alba, has been called “the kudzu of the Pacific Northwest” for its invasive behavior in that region. All plants in the Bryonia genus are poisonous to humans and livestock; common names include snakeweed, bastard turnip, and devil turnip.



Brooklyn-based artist Jonathon Rosen’s clients include Tim Burton, I.D. magazine, Popular Science, Details, Sony, Outside magazine, Psychology Today, New York Times Magazine, Screwgun Records, Salon, Rolling Stone, Fortune, MTV, Time magazine, and Mother Jones, among others. He has authored and illustrated two books, Intestinal Fortitude and Birth of Machine Consciousness, and his work has been collected by the New York Metropolitan Museum, David Cronenberg, and Si Newhouse.

Poison Gardens


This garden in Northumberland, England, is surely the best place in the world to see wicked plants. Fans of the Harry Potter movies will recognize the medieval Alnwick Castle, which served as Hogwarts in the first two films. In the gardens surrounding the castle is an elaborate poison garden where henbane and belladonna flourish alongside tobacco and a caged cannabis specimen. Well worth a visit. Check www.alnwickgarden.com to find out more, or call +44 (0)1665 511350.


The world’s oldest university botanical garden is situated near Venice in Padova, Italy. It includes an impressive collection of poisonous plants. Find out more at www.ortobotanico.unipd.it/eng/index.htm, or call +39 049 8272119.


This walled, centuries-old apothecaries’ garden in the heart of London, includes a number of medicinal and poison plants, as well as a fascinating “order bed” garden that shows how families of plants are related to each other. Go to www.chelseaphysicgarden.co.uk, or call +44 (0)20 7352 5646.


This world-class botanical garden includes a small, fenced toxic plant garden and a medicinal garden. They even include poison ivy in their collection. Check out www2.ville.montreal.qc.ca/jardin/en/menu.htm, or call (514) 872-1400.


The College of Physicians of Philadelphia has a museum devoted to our sometimes gruesome medical history. In addition to antique medical equipment and pathological specimens, there is a medicinal garden filled with powerful plants. Visit www.collphyphil.org or call (215) 563-3737.


Cornell University maintains a poisonous plant garden in Ithaca, New York, as part of its veterinary school. Most of the plants will be familiar to North American gardeners; the goal is to help familiarize students of veterinary medicine with the plants that animals are most likely to encounter. Visit www.plantations.cornell.edu, or call (607) 255-2400.

Visit www.wickedplants.com for links to poisonous plant databases, photos of poisonous plants, and more.



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