Saturday, March 19, 2011

Wicked Fun!

This post is a very special one for me.  I have just come off the high from meeting Amy Stewart, author of Wicked , a book about poisonous plants and human interactions with these plants. It was a great day because not only did I get to have lunch with Amy, but I also got to chat with Scott Calhoun who is a locally famous landscaper/writer in the Tucson area.  I'm not sure what the word is to describe the feeling from being around these expert plant people, but I think "overwhelmed" is a term that comes to mind.  There was some really great plant discussion going on and I just listened to it all not wanting it to stop. It was almost surreal.  I had my tablet and pen and took notes. It was really enjoyable to be around such wonderful energy and passion in what these people do in their own lives.  I have to be honest.....I have done the field studies, the historical studies, and the crazy adventures.......but in a different area with language, education, and indigenous peoples.  We are all connected, but I am at a crossroads in my life finding out that I wish I had gone further with my studies in botany like my friend Dr. Heidi did back in our tree hugging society days. Public school education isn't what it used to be and unfortuneatly a lot of good people are leaving the profession in search of a better job that treats people with respect.  Many of you would be shocked by how parents treat our teachers today.   I do enjoy teaching my high school and university students along with my love for the Spanish language (and all the field work I get to do during my summer "vacations")......but there is no denying that the fire that burns within me lies elsewhere these days and in a different direction. Today's meeting and lecture are indications that changes may be coming down the road. There was a quote someone once told me....."Education is a life long process."  I totally agree with that saying today but when I was younger, I didn't want to believe it.  Every 6 years teachers have to recertify in their content area, but the issue I have with this is......what if you want to study something else because we all change after time?  The answer is "No.  It has to be in your content area." Then I ask, "What about those month long trips I take to Spanish speaking countries?"  "No.  Vacations don't count".  People who travel with me KNOW that I don't take a vacation and some of them refuse to go with me(like my other half Pat:) If you're going to spend all that money on a plane ticket, why would you sit at a beach the entire time? My parents recently remarked to my sister who came out to visit that I would keep them busy busy busy.  I do research on language variations, indigenous attitudes vs. the national culture, plant studies, and historical/cuisine(my favorite) visits.  Spanish fluency comes from travel and study.  Knowledge comes from the source. To be authentic in your field, you MUST work and get experiences from these invaluable sources. No district or university can offer that experience to me.  So while I am studying plants on my own time, it's on my own time. :)

Amy Stewart, author of  Wicked and Dr. Ergot Ratbane of the Wicked Plant Display at the Tucson Botanical Gardens.  This picture sums it all up for me and just shows what happens when great ideas come together. Ms. Stewart found a great angle on plants that interested people worldwide and the Botanical Gardens found a way to bring that excitement into the gardens here. PS. Dr. Ergot Ratbane is hilarious both in person and in character and makes me laugh.  There were a lot of kids today coming through his office and it can be overwhelming....but he was ready with crayons and paper:)

I first "met" Amy Stewart through Austin's PBS program, Central Texas Gardening which can be found on YouTube.  She's a very kind and knowledgeable person who, like all of us, has to find time in their day to balance busy schedules.  From our chat, I understood that there were several major things that an author must go through....1)Research for your book 2) Travel time for the research on your book 3)Writing your book 4) Trying out the things that you are writing about(like Amy's poisonous plants) in your own garden  5)Editing and Publishing your book and 6)The book tours that follow while still trying to write your next book....and somewhere in there..... family. Amy was really friendly and great to get to know. 

So let me list what was so "wicked" about  Ms Stewart's lecture....
1.  Alnwick Castle has a Poison Garden on deadly plants and is also where Harry Potter was filmed.
                                             2. Around 68,000 people are poisoned every year
3.  Hemlock killed Socrates
4. There is a poisonous research plant in Logan, Utah
5. White Snakeroot killed Lincoln's Mother from Milk Sickness.  The cows had eaten the snakeroot weed and the people drank their milk which was also poisoned and hence, Lincoln's mother was a victim from this poisoness plant.
6. Pallagra is a vitamin defiency of B3 or niacin giving people in the early days the appearance of being a vampire.  This happened because corn was utilized by early American settlers as their primary source of food.
7. The most painful plant may be the Giant Stinging Tree or Dendrocnide Moroides.  If "stung" by this tree, the pain can last up to a year or reignite on the skin from heat or sunlight.
8. There is an animal poison control center for beloved pets....ASPCA
PS.  Lilies are toxic for cats and will give a cat kidney failure....think about this plant before buying a bouquet for your table....especially if you have a nibbling kitty. 
9.  Teenagers are finding other ways to smoke things besides weed. If you hear them using latin, be aware.  Diviner's sage is hard to get; but can be ordered on Ebay type sites. It can also kill.
10. Finally, what do you think is the most dangerous plant in the world?  It's the one that has killed the most people worldwide at around 90 million people.....what do you think it is?  Answer on the very bottom.

On a personal note, I had an amazing day at the Tucson Botanical Gardens and I'd like to thank them for inviting Ms. Stewart.  Her website is:

There are two people I'd love to sit down with here in Tucson and meet during another time....Scott Calhoun of ZonaGardens Landscape Design and David Yetman from the PBS KUAT series “The Deserts Speaks”
Scott Calhoun's website is

The answer to the question above is tobacco

Stay tuned for more.......


  1. Your excitement is palpable! So are you going to do study about plants or write a book or both? Re: teaching...I think teachers have a shelf life. Unfortunately, because of financial, social, habit...whatever, many stay on too long. I am so glad I have retired...I had had enough. There is a stage where the disadvantages begin to out weigh the joy.

  2. I'll have to find time to come back and check all your links. How great to meet them.


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