Plants make excellent murder weapons in mystery novels because they are perceived to be innocent, innocuous and mild-mannered. In general we don’t think of plants as being dangerous and capable of violence. This view of plants is what makes them such good murder weapons. Here are some examples of pretty plants with evil capabilities.
Nightshade is a plant with lovely green leaves and delicate lavender bell-shaped flowers. Its nickname is belladonna meaning beautiful woman. Nightshade has another more sinister attribute, tropane alkaloid, a deadly poison. Legend has it that when Agrippina the Younger hired the serial killer Locusta to kill the Roman emperor Claudius, she used nightshade
Hemlock resembles Queen Ann’s Lace with its feathery carrot-like leaves and umbrella-shaped white flowers. It is acutely toxic even when absorbed through the skin. The most famous case of hemlock poisoning was that of Greek philosopher Socrates in 399 BC. The 70-year-old was forced to take the hemlock for the crime of heresy.
St. Ignatius Bean is a tree that bares berries that contain strychnine, a toxic, colorless alkaloid. The infamous Dr. Thomas Cream killed at least seven women and one man, possibly many more, between 1878 and 1892 by giving them strychnine as medicine, both in the US and England. Rat poison comes from this plant family.
The prunus family of plants includes peaches, plums, apricots, almonds and cherries. Cyanide resides in the pits of these plants. Agatha Christie used cyanide as a murder weapon in her novel, The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side.
Curare is a large-leafed vine that grows in the South American rainforest. Indigenous tribes of the Amazon basin used curare-laden arrows to kill their enemies during tribal war.
Foxglove contains digitalis, a treatment for heart problems. In larger doses, it is also a poison that can lead to death.
Oleander is a common outdoor woody shrub found in warmer climates. It is so toxic that ingestion of a single leaf could cause the death of a small person.
So when you’re ready to commit a literary murder, go out in nature and pick your poison.