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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

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

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)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Cynthia
  • Monrovia, California, United States
  • 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.]

108 of 113 people found this review helpful

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  • Tina
  • ALLSTON, MA, United States
  • 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.

32 of 33 people found this review helpful

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  • S
  • Orillia, ON, Canada
  • 01-31-12

How did they do it???

What made the experience of listening to Wicked Plants the most enjoyable?

Amy Stewart has accomplished a remarkable feat! She has made what essentially should be a field guide to noxious weeds into an interesting audible book! The book gives a lot of botanical facts - interspersed with a lot of personal stories about the effect of the various weeds on people . . . as well as habitat. What really impressed me, however, was Coleen Marlo's impeccable Latin! She lets those compliccated botanical names roll off her tongue like a true native! Interesting read/listen - but I'm still not convinced that this is the best format to truly appreciate this work!

19 of 20 people found this review helpful

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Peaceful Planet my eye!

Great information delivered with grace. You can almost hear her wrinkle her nose. I will get her other audible books , too.

8 of 8 people found this review helpful

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For the Casual Nerd

Any additional comments?

This is an enjoyable book for those who also like to read tidbits of trivia, in this case about poisonous plants. I listened to this while I ran on the treadmill during my workout. Lots of neat stuff to learn about without being too weighed down with specific scientific speak. For the casual nerd who doesn't necessarily have to be into plants.

30 of 33 people found this review helpful

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Fascinating!

What made the experience of listening to Wicked Plants the most enjoyable?

I liked the way she described the chemical reactions to the human body for each type of plant. It amazed me about the effects of corn!

What was one of the most memorable moments of Wicked Plants?

Who knew that Deadly Nightshade is related to the tomato? And nicotine from the tobacco leaf is a neurotoxin. This kind of information is absolutely invaluable.

What about Coleen Marlo’s performance did you like?

The narrator was very consistent as there is a specific format to each plant type. She was very engaging.

Any additional comments?

I had to have the hardcover and have bought several copies for friends. I highly recommend it.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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Worthwhile

Informative and enjoyable, but not enthralling by any stretch. There were a lot of solid takeaways that made Wicked Plants entirely worthwhile to listen to, so I recommend it.

10 of 11 people found this review helpful

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  • bracken
  • mocksville, nc, United States
  • 12-13-11

Wonderful book. Informative and entertaining.

This is another book I can listen to over and over. Amy Stewart is one of my favorite non-fiction authors. And Coleen Marlo is one of my favorite 'readers' too...very expressive, she holds my attention through the entire book. This is a great book.

20 of 23 people found this review helpful

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  • Stephanie
  • Casselberry, FL, United States
  • 12-02-11

Maybe a good book...but a horrible audiobook

What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?

Nothing. It's not a book that is meant for audio.

What was most disappointing about Amy Stewart’s story?

The main theme in this book, to me, seems to be quantity over quality. There are endless plants (and fungi) that are described, but the explanations for each one are so short - a lot of them taught me nothing I hadn't already known. I guess if you know exactly nothing about plants you would probably learn more than I did.

What didn’t you like about Coleen Marlo’s performance?

She was given a bad book to read, so maybe it's not her fault. Just didn't like anything about this.

What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?

This book was very annoying as an audiobook. I should've looked it up on Amazon first to see how the book was laid out. It might be a good book to keep around (in paper form) for reference, but it is ridiculous to put it to audio. It's like listening to an encyclopedia. Encyclopedia's are good books, but you don't sit and read it cover to cover. You refer to it. Why someone decided this should be an audiobook baffles me. I couldn't even listen to half of it...and any of my friends will tell you I am a bit obsessed with plants, so I (of all people) should've loved this book.

Any additional comments?

Hate to turn people away from a book about plants. If you really want to get the most out of this, buy a paper copy.

10 of 13 people found this review helpful

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Very interesting facts. I loved it. Good read.

If you could sum up Wicked Plants in three words, what would they be?

Interesting, factual, great!

What other book might you compare Wicked Plants to and why?

Wicked Bugs. Same context, different life.

Which scene was your favorite?

Non applicable. <br/>

If you were to make a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?

Wicked! The movie.

Any additional comments?

Great series. Do more, please.

7 of 9 people found this review helpful

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  • Beau'n'steve
  • 09-07-17

wonderful

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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  • Margaret M Mitchell
  • 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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  • Miss Amy V
  • 11-26-15

Great listen! Amazing botanic facts.

Absolutely loved it. Such an interesting audiobook with a great narrator. I had no idea so many innocent looking plants were highly dangerous. Even if you're not a botany enthusiast, you'll enjoy this short listen.