Plants often featured in literature. They can either be the setting for a murder, as in a jungle or greenhouse, or they can be the actual murder weapon, as in strychnine or cyanide. Plants are also featured on many books covers, such as ivy that strangles or deadly nightshade that is beautiful yet toxic.
Plants have many uses in real life as well as in fiction novels. Healers use the flowers, roots and leaves to extract deadly poison to make life saving potions. Witches traditionally do the opposite, extracting the goodness from a plant to create a deadly potion, though historically witches and healers were the same thing. Speaking of history, the Wolfsbane plant was once used as means of detecting if a person was a werewolf.
Here, I take a look at some of the world’s deadliest plants. Some of which are still commonplace in gardens and yards around the world.
Hemlock is perhaps the most common plant in literature as it is often associated with witches. There are a few varieties but all wreak havoc in the central nervous system of its victims. Hemlock contains five toxic alkaloids and every part of it – fruit, roots and leaves – are lethal to humans. There is a long history of children being poisoned by making pipes or whistles out of the stems. Hemlock’s most famous victim was the Greek philosopher Socrates who was ordered to drink it. Hemlock was commonly used in Greece to execute the condemned. A sadistic and torturous death, because unlike many other deadly plants, Hemlock produce no carcinogenic or hallucinogenic qualities, hence the victim has time to reflect on the reason for his condemnation right up to the moment of death.
Wolfsbane is both pretty and deadly. The vibrant purple flowers are commonly found in backyards. It is loads with a toxic which causes asphyxiation. A villain in a fiction novel might mix up a batch of monkshood stew to do away with the hero or heroine. In literature, it is commonly associated with werewolves. The word wolfsbane probably comes from people using it to poison wolves and this wolfish connection seems to have crossed over into literature. In the Harry Potter series, Wolfsbane is used to ease the symptoms of lycanthropy (an actual psychological condition where a person believes they can transform into an animal) thus preventing Professor Lupin from losing his mind during his transformation into a werewolf.
Venus Fly Trap
Venus Fly Traps are better known as man eaters in fiction. Like the ones owned by Morticia Addams, named Cleopatra, and Audrey Jnr, who had a starring role in the Little Shop Of Horrors. The book and movie The Day Of The Triffids featured carnivorous plants that became mobile and sought out human prey. This plant is often referred to as a man eating plant, though never has it eaten a human. Myths surrounding this man eater began in 1881, when tales of a tribe in Madagascar that fed a woman to a giant man eater as a sacrifice surfaced. The stories were believed to be true right up to 1955 when the book, “Salamanders and other Wonders” exposed the tribe and the myth originator as fabrications.
Lovely to look at, and with such an innocuous sounding name, the plants are anything but harmless. In fact, this plant is voted the one most likely to turn a person into a zombie. Causing hallucinations, many teens have been known to test the substance by brewing it like a tea, but not many have survived. All parts of the plant are poisonous. A traveler to Peru in 19th century told of a man who had fallen into a stupor, his eyes were vacant, his mouth convulsively closed and his nostrils dilated. In fifteen minutes his eyes began to roll, he frothed at the mouth, his whole body convulsed and then he went into a fitful sleep. Zombie stories originated from the deepest darkest jungles, after travelers witnessed people drinking psychoactive drinks, some of which were then believed to be dead and buried, only to have these victims recover where they crawled out of their graves.
Everyone has heard of this plant, or as it is sometimes more sinisterly know – deadly nightshade. This plant, also known as the devil’s cherry, and it is toxic from tip to top. Legend has it that Macbeth’s soldiers poisoned the invading Danes with wine made from the sweet fruit. It seems authors are still fascinated with deadly plants, because nightshade is a very common title for short stories, novels, television episodes, fiction series, even comic books. In ancient times, this toxic plant was used in medicine, as an antidote to snake venoms, as a pain reliever, and as a stimulant. In the book and movie The Hunger Games, one of the Tributes was accidentally killed by eating berries known as nightlock. Though these berries are a work of fiction, they are a derivative of hemlock and nightshade, both of which are truly deadly.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
D L Richardson is the author of speculative fiction. She has three teen novels and one short story anthology published. Her first novel reached number 2 at OmniLit and number 38 at Kobo Books. Her second reached number 1 at OmniLit. Little Red Gem is her third novel and recently won 2nd place Best Books of 2013 Paranormal Cravings. She lives in Australia on the NSW south coast with her husband and dog.