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Catalina Island Conservancy

Wicked Gardens and Dangerous Beauties

It is early morning and I'm taking a leisurely stroll through the colorful streets of Avalon. Patchworks of green foliage and colorful flowers sprout on nearly all available dirt spaces. In the few vacant lots, shrubs and grasses compete in chaotic disarray for every available inch of space, of dirt and of sun. The Island's Mediterranean climate allows an eclectic mix of tropical, subtropical and temperate plants to coexist in riotous confusion. All around me I see death and misery in this green shrubbery...

Wait, wait! Hold it! Did you say "death and misery?"

One seldom thinks of plants as dangerous creatures like poisonous snakes, spiders, sharp-toothed sharks, mean dogs and temperamental wasps and bees. Few people develop a fear for plants, even though in close proximity to several of the most toxic, poisonous and deadly species in the world.

Amy Stewart, a bestselling gardening author, just published Wicked Plants: The Weed that Killed Lincoln's Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities. This is a botanical romp around the world with stories about dangerous plants, from Stewart's slightly cockeyed perspective. The part that really caught my attention was that many of these plants are either inside our houses, in our gardens and in that great 47,000-acre backyard we have here on the Island.

So, what are those dangerous plants and why are they so perilous? Here are some examples of common ornamentals that many Island residents have at home or that can be found on the Island. Welcome to the world of Catalina's wicked plants!

Visit our Photo Gallery to explore Catalina's Wicked Gardens and Dangerous Beauties.

Story and photos by Carlos de la Rosa,
Chief Conservation Officer, Catalina Island Conservancy