Pick Your Poison: The Perennial Bookworm

The North American Guide to Common Poisonous Plants and Mushrooms, Nancy Turner Ph.D. and Patrick von Aderkas, Ph.D., 2009.  Timber Press, 376 pages, 258 color photos, 6” x 9”, $29.95 (hardcover).

This book is way more than a field guide: it’s an engaging read.  Opening with instructions “In Case of Poisoning” and “How to Prevent Poisoning”, the guide is also a resource for emergency response.  As the book explains, children under the age of 5 are the most vulnerable to accidental poisoning, and for this reason, every household with young children should have this book on hand.  Add to that recommendation anyone who regularly comes into contact with plants and well, anyone who eats!  The appendices of poisonous food plants, wild and domesticated, are an eye opener.  Each plant entry includes one or more color photographs, common name, Latin name and sections on Quick check (for fast ID); Description (more thorough); Occurrence; Toxicity (types of chemical compounds, their potency, and in what plant parts they appear); and Notes.  The notes add the intrigue with fascinating, historically notable cases of human and animal poisonings as well as how indigenous peoples used the plant.  The information is delivered without excessive medical and botanical terminology, making it accessible for everyone but this book is not dumbed down and will inform readers advanced in these fields.

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About Colleen Miko

Colleen Miko is a certified professional horticulturist with 20 years experience in landscape design who has designed award winning gardens for the NW Flower & Garden Show as well as HGTV’s “Landscaper’s Challenge”. Colleen is a freelance garden writer and speaker who regularly writes "The Perennial Bookworm" where she reviews garden and natural science books, as well as a regular contributor to "WestSound Home & Garden Magazine" on a variety of horticulture topics.
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3 Responses to Pick Your Poison: The Perennial Bookworm

  1. It sounds like this might also be a useful book for those of use with pets that like to nibble on things in the garden. I would guess that some of the plants in my garden are probably in your book–probably more than I imagine. Fortunately my cat isn’t interested in many of them. It’s interesting that the book notes uses of plants by indigenous peoples. So many of the poison plants actually seem to be really useful.

    • Colleen Miko says:

      Looking at your plant list on your blog, I see you have an edible fig tree. According to the notes in Common Poisonous Plants “The leaves, fruits, sand sap of several species of Ficus are known to cause irritant dermatitis, or photodermatitis (Skin irritation in the presence of UV light)>” Fig dermatitis (causing chronic eczema) is common with harvesters, packers and processors of figs and the book lists the two specific toxins at play. Who knew?
      Then the notes go on to comment, “Adam and Eve are reputed to have used fig leaves as their rudimentary clothing, but at least one researcher has pointed out, in view of their irritant properties, they seem to be most unsuitable for this purpose.”

      • Really interesting/funny about the fig leaves. I noticed the milky, latexey-looking sap and thought it might spell trouble. I’ll know better now than to try to wear them to the beach.

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