Scary Plants Take Over Franklin Park Conservatory

Tristan Eden

These plants poison, stab and even eat their own prey. They're making their own little shop of horrors Sept. 27 to Nov. 9 at the conservatory.

Porcupine tomato Native to Madagascar, the porcupine tomato is all bark and all bite. The shrub's stems and leaves are covered in 1-inch-long fluorescent orange thorns. And the stems, leaves and yellow-green gumball-size fruit contain toxins and should not be eaten. Ingestion can, in some cases, cause allergic reactions, hallucinations and coma. The fruit's juice is also irritating to the skin and painful to the touch. Keep your distance.

Castor oil plant The castor oil plant (aka castor bean) is considered the most poisonous plant in the world. Its seeds ("beans") contain a highly poisonous toxin as well as the plant's namesake oil, used in a range of products from perfume to brake fluid. Five to 20 broken or chewed seeds can kill an adult (intact seeds can safely clear the digestive system without releasing their toxin). When broken beans are ingested, symptoms may not appear for up to 36 hours but typically begin within four. They include a burning sensation in the mouth and throat, abdominal pain, diarrhea, dehydration, hypotension and seizures. Without treatment, the victim will be dead in three to five very painful days.

Venus flytrap While harmless to humans, Venus flytraps are a terror to insects. Despite the name, the Venus flytrap's diet is made up mostly of beetles, ants and spiders. The small plant uses a unique and highly sophisticated system to catch its unsuspecting prey. When open (hunting), it exposes two pink lobes dotted with three hair-like stems that act as triggers. When an insect touches these hairs, the lobes snap shut instantly, trapping the insect inside (all three hairs must be touched within a 20-second period, or the same hair must be touched twice in a row; the hairs can also distinguish between insects and, say, raindrops). The lobes then hermetically seal to form a sort of stomach in which the Venus flytrap digests its prey, a process that can take as long as a couple days.