Wicked & Wonderful Plants: My Personal Arsenal

Wicked & Wonderful Plants: My Personal Arsenal

Tess Wilson
May 20, 2011

This evening I wrote a note reminding myself to go see the "Wicked Plants" exhibit at the San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers before it closes (in November, but I'm easily distracted), and realized that several of my very favorite plants are also very toxic. I present my best-loved dangerous beauties, in sinister black & white...

  • Hellebore- a wicked name for a wickedly beautiful plant. I was thrilled to see that Margaret Roach of A Way To Garden is just as intoxicated by them as I am. She's produced some hellebore porn and while listing their many attributes (deer-resistant, early-bloomers, shade-tolerant), refers to them as "sexy perennials". Sexy, but dangerous, of course.
  • I fell in love with Angel's Trumpets when I lived in Portland, OR. Someone brought a clutch of them to a party, telling the hostess to sleep with them next to the bed, as they would provide her with particularly vivid & lovely dreams. I'd like to try it someday, though I'm a bit frightened to tell you the truth. Angel's Trumpets give a hint of their dark powers, I feel: the flowers are gorgeous and ethereal, but the plant itself is gnarled and witchy. Something's going on here..
  • Sweet potato vines sound so innocent, so sweet & delicious. And they have such exquisite morning glory-like flowers (not surprising since they're both in the ipomoea family)- how could they be anything but good? Don't get bewitched by the fascinatingly purple-green-black leaves: all parts of the plant are highly toxic.
  • I've discussed my love of poppies before, but failed to mention that these delicate & innocent plants are more trouble than they look: "Horses, cattle, and sheep were poisoned when discarded plants were given to livestock", according to Poisonous Plants in Britain and Their Effects on Animals and Man. Wherever you & your animals might be, beware the Iceland poppy.
  • And finally, sweet potato vine's equally ominous cousin, the morning glory. These glowing white moons are called "Pearly Gates"- a sort of warning, you see. Though I think I'll always love sky-blue morning glories the best, the pearly white variety has me transfixed. As for the deep velvety black blossoms of Kniola's Black Night- my goodness, a very black night indeed...

I hope to see you all alive & well at "Wicked Plants: Botanical Rogues & Assassins" at the Conservatory of Flowers. (Can someone remind me?)

Please Note: This post is just an excuse to talk about pretty plants- for thorough information regarding toxic plants & safety, please consult the Canadian Poison Plants Reference System, ASPCA's Guide To Toxic Plants, or another trustworthy guide.

Images: Hellebore from A Way To Garden, Angel's Trumpet from Thompson & Morgan, Sweet Potato Vine (detail) from Garden Design Magazine, Poppy from Conscious Design Magazine, Black Morning Glory from Hirts Seeds on Amazon, White Morning Glory from Thebearfootshaman

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