by: Les Lutz, Director of Horticulture
This article first appeared in the Sandwich Enterprise and is posted with the paper’s permission.
Many don’t realize just how ‘dark’ some of their favorite plants are. If you’re familiar with the plant world, then you may already know that many of the plants commonly found in your home and your landscape can easily be considered ‘Wicked’. These plants have adapted to their environment so as to discourage insects or animals from eating them. Many have developed highly specialized chemical defenses that kill anything that tries to have them for dinner, whereas others have developed spines or thorns (think roses or cactus!).
Many of us have grown rhododendron or mountain laurel, but I doubt that is it common knowledge just how poisonous they are. Of course, most people aren’t inclined to eat one, or for that matter, many of the beautiful plants growing in their gardens. Yet a surprising number of plants commonly found in a home landscape have a sinister side.
I wonder who was brave enough to figure out that castor beans yield Castor Oil, a compound commonly used as a laxative as well as in soaps and other manufacturing. On the other hand, castor beans also yield ricin, a highly toxic protein and a single seed can kill a person. Another beautiful plant commonly used in the home landscape is Cardinal Flower, Lobelia cardinalis. This beautiful plant, loved by hummingbirds contains alkaloids that can induce vomiting, diarrhea, convulsions and even coma, but we still grow them. How many have grown Lantana as an annual? This, too, is highly poisonous and can cause similar symptoms. Plants like Caladium, Foxglove, English Ivy, Jack-in-the-Pulpit and of course Brugmansia, the beautiful Angel’s Trumpet, are all deadly.
One of my personal favorites and, of course, a harbinger of spring is the common daffodil. While the flowers aren’t particularly dangerous, the bulbs contain substances that can cause depression, tremors and heart problems. Even a plant as seemingly harmless as an apple can be dangerous. How many people actually know that apple seeds contain hydrogen cyanide, a chemical that I’m sure most are familiar with (Cyanide)? It takes a few, but if enough apple seeds are eaten, they can be fatal.
If I’ve piqued your interest, make sure to visit the new exhibit, “Wicked Plants,” opening this season. Based on the book by Amy Stewart of the same name, the exhibit opens April 19 and the indoor portion of the show runs until September 1, 2014. All through the gardens you’ll find descriptive labels telling the stories of many of the more sinister members of the plant kingdom. Annual beds will be planted with beautiful, if not slightly (or mostly) “Wicked” plants. Plants like Jimson Weed (Datura), named for the Jamestown Colony in Virginia where it was used by colonists to poison the British troops, as well as flowering tobacco and even an assortment of carnivorous plants will be found. All through the gardens at Heritage you’ll learn about the wondrous, if not slightly darker side, of many of the plants you have come to love.
Visit Wicked Plants from April 19 to September 1, 2014.