Wicked Plants: A Book of Botanical Atrocities by Amy Stewart might be more accurately described as a brilliant "bestiary," so lively and alive are the rogues, assassins, and ne'er-do-wells of this expertly conceived tome. Just out today, Wicked Plants includes etchings by Briony Morrow-Cribbs and illustrations by Jonathon Rosen. The featured flora ranges from Khat, which "gun-toting Somalian men stuffed...into their cheeks," racing around Mogadishu "in a jittery high that lasted until late into the night," to Aconite, which "Nazi scientists found useful as an ingredient for poisoned bullets." Stewart includes such cheerily titled sections as "This Houseplant Could be Your Last" and "The Devil's Bartender." Everything about this brilliant, fascinating, and often quite funny hardcover screams buy me, down to the elegant book ribbon and the excellent design. I can't always say I find plants the most interesting of subjects, but Stewart's enthusiasm and her great writing made me an instant fan of hither-to-unknown-to-me plants like Ratbane, Voodoo Lily, and Horse Choke Mayhem Vine (okay, so I made that last one up, but if you read Wicked Plants, you'll soon find that the name wouldn't look at all out of place amongst the real ones..).
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Stewart via email about her book, and about such serious subjects as cage matches between bears and plants. She replied from home, between trips to Los Angeles and Minneapolis. "The book tour is like this--go somewhere for a few days or a week and then go home long enough to do laundry and wave to my husband, and then leave again. I'll be mostly gone through July."