Savannah Morning News
Sun., Sept. 25, 2016
If there’s one thing you can count on at a gathering or a chance encounter on the street or even at a restaurant with a waiter/friend, it’s that one or more parties will reach into a pocket or a pocketbook, pull out a mobile phone and search (sometimes forever) for a photo to back up what they were saying. Most of the time it’s images of children or grandchildren.
That’s what my Detroit cousin Bob could have done when I saw him at a wedding last week. He’s got a daughter who produces knockout jewelry and two grandbabies from a son (plus another offspring of sorts: the son’s riveting new television series, “StartUp”). But no. Forget all that. With barely a hello when Bob spotted me he palmed his phone and went straight to a photo of something else.
“Aha,” I said. “A double-fluted purple brugmansia. One of my favorites.”
“You gave me the seeds.”
“Nice job on growing it,” I said. “You raised a fine species. And it’s one of those flowering plants that like to be grown from seed. They don’t seem to produce babies you can dig up and give away.”
Silence, followed by, “It’s poisonous.”
“Then don’t eat it,” I said. “Half the plants in your garden are poisonous.”
Take castor beans. Remember that great scene from “Breaking Bad” when Walter White, the desperate chemistry teacher turned meth maker so he could raise money for his cancer treatments, slipped ricin, the poisonous substance from the seeds of the castor bean plant, into someone’s tea, which resulted in yet another death in that compelling TV series with questionable morality and great scenes from New Mexico?
Castor beans are beautiful plants. The leaves are large and lobed, glossy and red. The cluster spiny seeds in the pods are dramatic. The tree is tall; it makes a statement. The seeds, which look like pinto beans, are mottled – and poisonous.
I’ve grown it, sketched it, passed along the seeds, cheered when it came back in the spring. I have never eaten it or slipped it into someone’s tea. I’ll never do either.
All right. Let’s get this out of the way from the beginning. Half the plants that pop up at next week’s plant swap will probably be poisonous. If you eat them. Then again, batteries are poisonous too. If you swallow them. So is nicotine. If you ingest it. So are oleander if you roast a marshmallow on the end of a stem. So are green potatoes. So are the seeds in an apple core, which are quite tasty. I eat them all the time.
Full confession. In the nearly 20 years we’ve been meeting twice a year on West Boundary Street (the first Saturday in October, the first Saturday in April) to tell stories, look for gems such as kiwi vines (hint, hint, anyone have any?) and swap plants – fig trees, maidenhair ferns, baby kale plants, magenta night-blooming cereus (I might have some of those except when I took the plants inside during the pending storm known as Hermine they got mixed up with the more traditional white ones and to my eye at least they are identical) I’ve never heard of anyone going to an emergency room or spending the night regurgitating from any of the plants they walked away with.
But there will be photos. If I could have found the photos of the bananas that I had to cut off the trees after the high winds from Hermine I would have shown those to cousin Bob in return for his purple double-fluted brugmansia. While banana trees are a snap to grow in Savannah you don’t often get multiple hands of bananas, especially so early in the year – as we did this year – which would have given them a chance to ripen. Instead I’ve got the severed bananas encased in a plastic bag with a cut up apple (and I’ve crossed my fingers – part of the directions) hoping they’ll ripen because there is nothing like a banana off your own tree compared to one that traveled from Costa Rica or Guatemala.
Bragging rights are part of the process of swapping plants or growing plants.
Rules for the plant swap? Come early, bring something to eat if you don’t have anything to share, bring a story and expect lots of four o’clock tubers, excess Mexican petunias, baby loquat trees, monkey grass, ferns of every nature, spiky prickly pear cactus pieces, the herb known as shiso, umbrella flat sedge, and excuses about why your garden didn’t do very well this year (too much rain, not enough rain) and photos. There will probably be a photo of two.
The plant swap goes from 8 to 11 a.m. The garden sits next to Chatham Steel (501 W. Boundary Street). For more information, call Jane Fishman at 912-484-3045.