In December, 2015, As Potent as a Charm opened in The BOX Gallery in Akron Ohio. An additional thirteen prints were added to the original ten, arranged individually and in small groupings.
Black sheep and skeletons in the closet . . . even the plant world has its share of family secrets, eccentrics and deviants.
Consider the family Solanaceae, commonly referred to as either the nightshade or potato family: members of this unwieldy clan run the gamut from the meek to the murderous. In each of the six Solanaceae prints the virtuous shares space with the disreputable.
Look for mandrake (Mandragora officinarum) and the potato (Solanum tuberosa) in Scuttle, deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna) and Petunia in Loves Me Not, henbane (Hyoscyamus niger) and eggplant (Solanum melongena) in Best Laid Plans, bittersweet (Solanum dulcamara) and tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) in Bittersweet, Jimson weed (Datura stramonium) and Chinese lantern plant (Physalis alkekengi) in Deceitful Charm, along with tobacco (Nicotiana) and chili pepper (Capsicum) in Smokin’ Hot. With about 2,690 additional species, the history of the Solanaceae family’s interaction with humans is one of dramatic trial and error, malevolence and goodwill.
Another lovely, yet lethal, flower from the Solanaceae family that was not included in the above pairings is Angel’s Trumpet, Brugmansia suaveleons. John Robertson, in his summary on The Poison Garden Website, says it best: “In northern climates this attractive plant is often grown indoors because people assume its common name refers to the look of the flowers rather than the indication that this is the sound to be heard after ingestion of a fatal amount.”
Many tales have been told about Foxglove, Digitalis purpurea, a favorite being this story from Norway. Despite its beauty one should keep this in mind: “The operation of this herb, internally taken, is often violent, even in small doses: it is best therefore not to meddle with, lest the cure should end in the churchyard.”
Nicholas Culpeper (1616 – 1654).
Perilous Plantings in the Landscape
There have been many surprises in researching poisonous plants for the As Potent as a Charm series. Not the least is the number of common landscape/foundation plantings that add a hint of danger to the structure of the garden, such as this threesome of familiar shrubs:
A Deceptive Welcome Rhododendron
Pleasant Valley Yew, Taxus baccata
Be Still Oleander, Nerium oleander
Being a December exhibit, As Potent as a Charm simply wouldn’t have been complete without a couple of holiday botanical specimens whose motives might not be so merry:
Black Hellebore Christmas Rose, Helleborus niger
Biding Time Mistletoe, Viscum album