Wicked Plants: The Weed that Killed Lincoln’s Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities

By Amy Stewart

Algonquin Books • 235 pages

At first glance, you may be tempted to throw this book on top of your “bathroom reading” pile next to the potpourri. We assure you, however, that Stewart’s well-researched and highly practical compendium of hair-raising botany deserves a closer read.

While most plant life goes unnoticed by our highly technological culture, it’s nice that someone feels it important enough to remind us that even the prettiest flowers conceal toxins capable of inducing death by asphyxiation. And as Stewart so compellingly points out, you don’t have to travel far to experience first-hand the evils of the plant kingdom — just take a look in your backyard.

From the toxic fungus consumed by the eight young girls involved in the Salem Witchcraft Trials to the English Ivy growing on the side of your house that causes gastrointestinal strain and possible delirium, this offbeat guide to nature’s dark side is fact-filled and highly entertaining. It may even inspire you to pour that bowl of potpourri into the trash — who knows what the hell that dried concoction of fragrant “plant material” is really made of anyway?