The Queen of Poisonous Plants
April 25, 1912
Today is the birthday of the author and botanist, Julia Francis McHugh Morton.
A Fellow of the Linnean Society, Julia Morton was a popular expert and lecturer on plants.
Julia was revered, especially for her knowledge of plant medicine and toxicity.
Known as the poison-plant lady, Julia worked to educate the public through letters and phone calls, lectures, and articles. Julia even created posters about poisonous plants specially designed for hospital emergency rooms.
Among the many emergencies, Julia helped with was one brought to her attention by a doctor in Scotland. A patient back from a Jamaican holiday was gravely ill. Julia deduced that a noxious castor bean from a souvenir necklace had been ingested.
Over the years, Julia has been the subject of many newspaper articles. Clever headlines showcase Julia's expertise:
"She gets to the root of problems" and "She leaves no leaf unturned".
In 1988, the Miami News published an article about Julia's help with a murder case of a teenage girl.
The girl's car was found in the Dadeland Mall parking lot after the girl had disappeared.
Police brought Julia a half-inch blade of grass stuck to the car's door handle and some pieces of leaves that were wedged inside the door. Julia identified the grass as Giant Burma Reed.
Next, Julia put the leaf samples in the water and determined that they were the undeveloped leaflets of Spanish Needles.
Julia concluded that somewhere a short distance from the Dadeland Mall (perhaps off Galloway Road near a nursery in a tall patch of Burma Reed), police might find the girl's body.
And, Julia predicted that there were two killers. Julia correctly assumed that one had wet hands and had left Burma Reed on the driver's door, while the other had closed the passenger door so quickly that it caught the Spanish Needles in the frame.
The next morning, police officers found an area that matched Julia's description and solved their case.
It was Julia Morton who said,
"Plants are always up to something.
So I don't take a vacation.
I operate on solar energy.
I can only stay indoors a certain length of time."
Like the botanist Marcus Jones, Julia Morton died from injuries sustained in a car accident in 1996. She was 84.