Just because a plant looks nice does not mean you should eat it. Farmers learn this lesson tragically sometimes when their animals feed on wild plants. In fact, some of the nicest looking plants in the world are the most harmful. They are best enjoyed from a dstance.
A good example is belladonna. A "bella donna" is a beautiful woman in Italian. The plant is also beautiful. It has flowers like stars. It also has shiny berries that start out green and turn purple to black. But every part of the belladonna plant is poisonous. Other names for belladonna include devil's herb and deadly nightshade.
Yet just because something is dangerous does not always mean it is all bad. Belladonna and other poisonous plants have a long history of medical use.
The common or purple foxglove produces pretty flowers along a tall leafy stem called a spike. Foxglove can cause heart failure. Yet the plant is part of a group called Digitalis that is used in medicine to treat people with heart problems.
Several other plants present risks to people or animals. Their names include coast fiddleneck, common cocklebur, low larkspur and common groundsel.
Recently there was news from northern Germany. Reports said a shopper at a market found small amounts of groundsel in bags of mixed salad. The average person would probably not have recognized it. But this person knew about poisonous plants.
Many people happily recognize oleander. This evergreen shrub produces beautiful flowers. They are white, red, pink and other colors.
But officials in Southern California say someone recently poisoned more than twenty show horses by mixing oleander in their feed. Local newspapers say the horses have recovered.
Amy Stewart is a best selling author of books about the good and bad in nature. She lives in Northern California and raises a poison garden of her own. Her newest book is called "Wicked Plants." So which plant does she consider the deadliest of all? Amy Stewart says tobacco is the deadliest plant. It has killed more people than any other plant. Ninety million people have died because of tobacco.
And that's the VOA Special English Agriculture Report. You can find other Agriculture reports as well as transcripts and podcasts of all our programs at our Web site, voaspecialenglish.com.
(Adapted from a radio program broadcast 18Aug2009)