Murder in the Garden

May 7th, 2009

Last Spring, I watched as my boss at the Garden Center, eagerly snatched one very tall, gangly plant from the green house and headed outside to plant this homely plant by the fence in front of the store. I was aghast. We were literally hemmed in on all sides by plants that were drop dead gorgeous. Airy lavender, prickly gay feather, purple fountain grass, harvest moon cone flower, bee balm, butterfly bush, Valerian, asters, mums, daisies, not to mention hundreds of blossoming annuals all clamoring to be admired, fawned over and cherished forever. And my boss… a person who can rattle off the scientific names of every plant within thirty miles… just picked up the plainest, most spindly, most unattractive plant in the entire store, and made sure to plant it before it was too late.

I kept track of the non-descript plant for several weeks wondering what could possibly be it’s magical hold over my boss. It took a while, but as the plant grew to it’s full five foot height it became stunningly beautiful. Fiery red foliage spidered out in all directions. It’s leaves were large and somewhat maple like in shape. It provided a gorgeous backdrop along the fence for the Russian Sage and Summer Wine Ninebark in front of it.

What was the plant?

It was the deadly Castor Bean.

The seeds on this plant are poisonous.

Very poisonous.

As little as one seed can kill a person.

An extremely deadly poison called Ricin is derived from the seeds.

In 1978, an anti-communist political dissident named Georgi Markov was murdered with an umbrella and a dose of Ricin that could fit on the head of a pin. To read this fascinating story click here.

If you plant Castor Bean in your garden you will want to practice the age old garden art of cutting the flowers off before they mature… otherwise known as nipping it in the bud.

Castor bean really is a gorgeous plant, you just have to be careful, watchful and for goodness sake, nip it in the bud!

Digitalis or ‘Foxglove’ is a poisonous biennial that produces a substance that can be both fatal to humans as well as being used as a medicine for patients suffering from heart failure. Symptoms of digitalis poisoning include, anorexia, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. A few crazy people use digitalis as a weight loss aid. Some of these same crazy people end up dead. I wonder if getting back into those skinny pants was worth it?

At one point digitalis was also commonly used to control seizure disorders, and to regulate the pulse.

Datura is another poisonous plant that goes by many names. Some of these names sound like they are made up by a crazy blogger hiking through a cow pasture, but they are actually real names. Names like…

jimson weed

ditch weed

stink weed

loco weed

thorn apple

angel’s trumpet

devil’s trumpet

beelzebub’s twinkie

devil’s snare

devil’s seed

mad hatter

crazy tea

zombie cucumber

Jamestown weed


thorn apple

My personal favorite is zombie cucumber.

I think it is highly possible that I have been receiving a miniscule dose of zombie cucumber throughout my entire life.

Datura is a very deadly poison that many cultures have learned to use to induce an altered state.

Here are a few fun little rhymes to help you remember how much you DO NOT WANT to sample a zombie cucumber!

“blind as a bat,

mad as a hatter,

red as a beet,

hot as hell,

dry as a bone,

the bowel and bladder lose their tone,

and the heart runs alone.”

“Can’t see,

can’t spit,

can’t pee,

can’t shit.”

And a sweet little Navajo saying…

“Eat a little, and go to sleep. Eat some more, and have a dream. Eat some more, and don’t wake up.”

People who are under the effects of Datura experience a true trance like state. They do not respond to actual stimuli, and instead respond to things that are not really there. They will often report smoking a cigarette, or holding a lighter, only to then drop the cigarette or lighter and try to find it when they never actually had either item to start with.

This is interesting to me as I go through this same basic routine with my car keys every single day of my life. I am sure the car keys are in the bottom of my purse… I can hear them jangling… I can see the glint of the metal… and yet as I dump out the entire contents of my purse onto the kitchen counter in a frantic frenzy to find my keys… there are no car keys. Once again, I seem to be operating from a true trance like state… seeing things that don’t exist… hearing things that are not there.

Am I on Datura?

Datura tends to create a living dream-like state. The user often communicates with people that are either dead or miles away.

I often talk to myself.. and have been known to have pretend interviews with Oprah Winfrey, Katie Couric, and Barbara Walters…

Am I on Datura?

Poisoning from Datura most often occurs because it can take up to 13 hours before it enters the brain and causes an out of body experience. As a result, people keep taking more and more Datura in an attempt to create a high.

I find that I do the same with toasted almond fudge ice cream.

Am I on Datura?

In 1676 a strange little incident occurred in Jamestown Virginia. Some soldiers were sent to quell ‘Bacon’s Rebellion”. The soldiers gathered some ‘greens’ to make a ‘boiled salad’. They ate their fill and eleven days later they finally returned to their senses…

Here is an excerpt about the event..

The James-Town Weed (which resembles the Thorny Apple of Peru, and I take to be the plant so call’d) is supposed to be one of the greatest coolers in the world. This being an early plant, was gather’d very young for a boil’d salad, by some of the soldiers sent thither to quell the rebellion of Bacon (1676); and some of them ate plentifully of it, the effect of which was a very pleasant comedy, for they turned natural fools upon it for several days: one would blow up a feather in the air; another would dart straws at it with much fury; and another, stark naked, was sitting up in a corner like a monkey, grinning and making mows [grimaces] at them; a fourth would fondly kiss and paw his companions, and sneer in their faces with a countenance more antic than any in a Dutch droll.

In this frantic condition they were confined, lest they should, in their folly, destroy themselves — though it was observed that all their actions were full of innocence and good nature. Indeed, they were not very cleanly; for they would have wallowed in their own excrements, if they had not been prevented. A thousand such simple tricks they played, and after eleven days returned themselves again, not remembering anything that had passed. – The History and Present State of Virginia, 1705

You might think it is crazy to purposefully plant poisonous plants (say that five times fast) however if you consult a list of poisonous flowers, I am sure you will discover that you have poison in abundance growing right under your very feet. Humans figured out a long time ago which plants were edible and which to avoid putting in their boiled salad. And then they stopped eating boiled salad all together. Because even if it wasn’t poisonous, it still tasted pretty bad.


  • I never worry much about the humans getting into these…but I do fret about the fur-kids. My feline beasties are prone to chew on anything green. And outside – too many strays running around. I’d feel horrible if my plantings caused them any harm!

  • kerry:


  • Great post, and interesting stuff. These plants are beautiful, but amazing how dangerous they can be. I grew up with oleanders in m back yard for years in California before I learned how poisonous they are. Good thing I am not a brontosaurus.

    Will be back again soon.


  • Don’t forget the oleander plant. I was always told the story about the cub scouts roasting hotdogs on olenader sticks and dying. I looked it up and found this:

  • caren:

    nip it in the bud – and I thought that was just Barney Fite’s saying. That is so interesting. I can’t have live plants in the house as my cat eats anything live then throws it up all over the house. Nasty little habit. I remember my grandmother telling me about plants she had in her gardens and some were poisonous and some were there to keep bugs and animals out. She had such a green thumb and could grow anything. She would go somewhere and take cuttings off of plants and trees and then next time you would visit her it would be growing like crazy in her garden. She had a large garden of veggies and flowers. I miss that and her.

  • So I am wondering why you have these plants in your home? Think you can take the chance since your husband is the country doctor?

  • Anoria:

    My mom started growing castor beans in our yard last year. Since the little kids in our neighborhood have long since grown old enough not to eat random berries and plants they find around, and the plants get tall enough that there’s not a lot of worry about ground-dwelling animals getting to the seeds, she let them flower and produce seed pods. They may be poisonous but they’re so neat looking! They’re red and spiky and just the oddest thing to find in a little vase on someone’s desk.
    I keep hearing conflicting stories about whether pointsettia plants are poisonous. Any input from the gardening expert here?

  • What an educational post! With this research, and your previous post about Jane Austen, you have the makings of a romance/murder novel in your hands. Have you considered writing one?

  • This should be an article in a garden magazine. So, when you come off you Datura high and read this comment, then send it hence forth to be published.

  • Wow! Cool post. I’m a little afraid to buy plants now. Not that I go around eating my plants, but I do have kids and a dog. I can never be too sure about them, any of them.


  • becky up the hill:

    What a great blog! I knew some of it and some I didn’t. I remember buying Foxglove when my youngest was four. I told him it was poison and he was old enough for me to have it in our garden. I forgot how dramatic he was..he threw a loud fit, wailing away..begged me not to buy the “poison plant”, right there in the garden center..this was in the late 80′s. His older brother who didn’t do drama, stood there mortified. If it wasn’t for that embarrassing moment in the garden center, I’d never remember buying this Foxglove.

  • I think castor beans are gorgeous! They are also good for repelling burrowing critters, like moles, from the garden. I used to grow a ‘dwarf’ castor bean that only got about 5 feet tall. It had red veins in the leaves and flowers. I also grew a green one that was about 10 feet tall! Alas, I live in the desert now and I really miss my Kansas garden ‘friends’.

  • Laura:

    Well…( do you notice that I use these fun little dots too??) I’ll just file away all the flora-esque knowledge for now. One never knows when that might come into play, does one?

    I just wanted to officially thank you for the profound knowledge of the appropriate spelling of the phrase “nip it in the BUD.” If I had a nickel for every time I’ve read (or heard) of people nipping it in the “BUTT” I’d be a very rich woman.

    Knowledge is power.

  • Jojo:

    Hmm…I wonder if any of these could help with the raccoons in the trash problem we have recently developed.

  • Susan:

    I love how your humor is evident all through your postings. I guess I wouldnt read your blog on a daily basis if I didnt find you hilarious. Also, you are MUCH taller than I thought having seen your photo next to PW and your sister. I am used to seeing your feet, hands, fingers, etc. in your photos. Not the entire Rechelle.

  • Now you know what to sell the guy who wanted a tree without leaves or branches!

  • sherry:

    Scarlet runner bean is a nice, old-timey climbing vine with a brilliant scarlet flower that the hummingbirds just love. And you can eat the beans. Bonus!

  • Um, is that Wikipedia article for real or did you write it? It just doesn’t seem quite credible in some parts.

    Also, am I the only one who thinks Devil’s Twinkie and Zombie Cucumber sound a bit dirty?