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Editorial Reviews

Author/Gardener Amy Stewart and reader Coleen Marlo have followed up Wicked Plants with a new audiobook detailing the sinister elements that could be lurking in floral bouquets, backyard gardens, or even that plate of vegetables on the dinner table. Wicked Plants: The Weed That Killed Lincoln's Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities continues in the vein of Wicked Bugs, giving a brief history of known botanical problems: poison ivy, hemlock, oleander, etc., but also adding tidbits about obscure plants to be assiduously avoided. While Coleen Marlo's playful tone makes the most of Stewart's creative descriptions, both the text and the reader continually emphasize the need for safety and easy access to the phone number for Poison Control when reaction to a plant is ever in question.
Marlo clearly enjoys herself as she reads through "Death by Lawn", "Weeds of Mass Destruction", and "Vegetable Wickedness". It is the little things that are the most interesting, though, such as Marlo's presentation of "ordeal beans", which, for a while in Nigeria became a Monty Python-esque method of determining innocence or guilt through the ingesting the toxic calabar bean. Or how simply passing by a henbane plant could cause folks to swoon, which is why ancient Romans attempted to use the plant as an anesthesia.
Stewart's research encompasses plants that strangle, sicken, sting, cause hives, and in general irritate through their seeds, leaves, fragrance, and oils. Marlo's delivery brings forth the irony and/or humor inherent in plants with names from "vomitwort" and "corpse flower". There are fascinating facts as Stewart details and Marlo presents the sometimes fine line between plant as healer - castor oil from castor beans - to plant as murderer - the horrific poison, ricin, is an extract from that same castor bean plant. There is malevolence to be found in the book from unstoppable water hyacinth vines, fast-growing bushes of purple loosestrife, and the pestilence of killer algae in our oceans. Wicked Plants tells of a world pretty much taken over by insidious plant life, perhaps increasing its sinister control while a human population is distracted by smartphones, computer screens, and iPads. Fortunately for the audiobook aficionados, listeners can remain alert to the encroaching kudzu while enjoying Amy Stewart's highly entertaining writing and Coleen Marlo's enthusiastic descriptions in Wicked Plants. Oh, and remember to avoid exploding plants! — Carole Chouinard
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Publisher's Summary

Beware! The sordid lives of plants behaving badly. A tree that sheds poison daggers; a glistening red seed that stops the heart; a shrub that causes paralysis; a vine that strangles; and a leaf that triggered a war. Amy Stewart, best-selling author of Flower Confidential, takes on over 200 of Mother Nature's most appalling creations in an A to Z of plants that kill, maim, intoxicate, and otherwise offend.
Stewart renders a vivid portrait of evildoers that may be lurking in your own backyard. Drawing on history, medicine, science, and legend, this compendium of bloodcurdling botany will entertain, enlighten, and alarm even the most intrepid gardeners and nature lovers.
©2009 Amy Stewart (P)2011 Tantor
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Critic Reviews

"Culling legend and citing science, Stewart's fact-filled, A-Z compendium of nature's worst offenders offers practical and tantalizing composite views of toxic, irritating, prickly, and all-around ill-mannered plants." ( Booklist)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
4 out of 5 stars
By Cynthia on 04-23-13

Grows on You Like Kudzu

Amy Stewart just published the already much referenced “The Drunken Botanist: The Plants that Create the World’s Great Drinks” (2013).” I knew when I finished “The Drunken Botanist” I’d never settle for a badly made cocktail. Just yesterday, I was annoyed to see a “martini” menu at a well known chain restaurant (whose name resembles The Cheesecake Factory) listing only “vodka martinis”. Thanks to Stewart’s help, I made sure I got a real martini – made with gin.

“Wicked Plants: The Weed that Killed Lincoln’s Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities” (2009) is much shorter than “The Drunken Botanist”, and not quite as fun. There are no drink recipes in this one, but plenty of advice on what NOT to eat or drink.

In Stewart’s hands, each ‘wicked plant’ takes on a distinct personality. Some are bullying newcomers, like Japanese-native kudzu, which was imported for erosion control but is invading the American south. Some plants are deceptive, like foxglove. Used correctly, it produces the life saving digitalis. Used incorrectly, foxglove kills. It turns out the ubiquitous but much-maligned poinsettia plant is an irritant, not a poison.

I realized – and was quite disconcerted – that I am surrounded by poisonous plants. There are beautiful but poisonous oleander trees in my yard, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen hemlock in my yard, and, thinking back on it – as much as I loved pulling up and eating raw rhubarb as a child, I’m very lucky I’m here.

“Wicked Plants”, like Stewart’s “Wicked Bugs: The Louse that Conquered Napoleon’s Army and Other Diabolical Insects” (2011), is an A to Z encyclopedia of the bad boys of the natural world.

I wondered if I might have been better off with “Wicked Plants” in print so that I could see what Stewart was describing. I thought about it, and realized that if I had done that, I wouldn’t have had Colleen Marlo’s narration to tell me how to pronounce the names.

I’m not sure that I’ll buy “Wicked Plants” in text (I will buy “The Drunken Botanist” on paper for the recipes!), but it was definitely worth the listen.

[If you found this review helpful, please let me know by hitting the 'helpful' button! Thanks.]

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138 of 143 people found this review helpful

2 out of 5 stars
By Tina on 11-09-11

Buy the Book

i would highly recommend you purchase the printed version of this book. the text is interesting, but it reads like an encyclopedia.

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45 of 48 people found this review helpful

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
5 out of 5 stars
By Beau'n'steve on 09-07-17


I loved this read! such a fun and lively description of some of the planets most fascinating plants!! I do recommend a background or knowledge of Latin names, simple because there aren't any pictures!! must read for all plant lovers and horticulture enthusiasts!!

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3 out of 5 stars
By Margaret M Mitchell on 11-14-16

Pleasant but not in-depth

Would you say that listening to this book was time well-spent? Why or why not?

Wicked Plants is a reasonable listen, with some interesting facts but it dealt with the subject matter quite lightly. I thought 'the Drunken Botanist' was better.

What was your reaction to the ending? (No spoilers please!)

This was a book of lists. It didn't have an ending so much as a stopping point.

What about Coleen Marlo’s performance did you like?

She hisses her 's', which gets a bit jarring when you listen to the book over the full four hours. That could be an artifact of production as it didn't seem as noticeable in the other works she's narrated.

If this book were a film would you go see it?

I'd rent it but not buy it.

Any additional comments?

Wicked Plants felt like an excerpt from 'the Drunken Botanist' as though it was a way for the author to use her leftover research. Not a bad book but cursory.

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