Amy Stewart’s Wicked Plants: Bear vs Castor Bean, Whomping Willows, and Terrifying Mushrooms

I truly love this book, and was fortunate enough to catch Amy Stewart between gigs and interview her for Omnivoracious. Check it out–it’s a good one, and funny.

Jeff the Silly: Imagine this scenario. You’re up against a Kodiak bear. You have the ability to conjure up a six-foot version of any of the plants in your book to help fend it off. Which plant, and why?

Amy Stewart: Hmmm, I’m going to need something fast-acting, so that rules out castor bean, and I guess it also rules out the coyotillo shrub, which is cool because it causes paralysis–but later. So I’m going with curare, a South American vine that can be used on poison arrows. It’s actually a muscle relaxant, but it works so fast that it causes birds to fall out of trees. This assumes, of course, that the Whomping Willow is not available…

Also check out just how great the book is design-wise, in addition to the amazing PR kit for reviewers:


  1. says

    i was convinced to buy this book within seconds of seeing the cover you posted first time. Just gotta wait ’til I can afford it :-)

    Thanks loads for posting further info.

  2. Hellbound Heart says

    dammit you get all the cool stuff, not fair!!!!!!! (throws self down and throws a willy)….

  3. says

    I already bought my copy directly from her, just so I could get it autographed. Aside from one minor quibble, about the ginkgo being a member of the cashew family, it was A Beautiful Thing.

  4. says

    Oh, and on the Omnivoracious interview, I have to add that I’m getting a good example of a carnivorous plant that encourages insect symbiosis. It’s an Asian pitcher plant called Nepenthes bicalcarata, and the pitchers have two fangs coming down off the lid: they look as if the plant could bite, but apparently they’re an adaptation to prevent the pitchers from being robbed of insect prey by monkeys and birds. The pitcher plant encourages one species of ant to live in the vicinity, and it even grows “rooms” in its leaves to allow them to set up nurseries. The ants make daisychains into the pitchers and tear up prey caught inside: not only does the plant benefit by the ants eating large prey before it rots and damages the pitcher, but the ants also drop their dead into the pitchers and give back the nutrients. Finally, if anything is dumb enough to try to eat the plant, the ants converge and sting the predator until it leaves. The more I come across stories like these, how could I not stick with botany as far as it will take me?