The Queen of Poisonous Plants

#OTD On this day in 1912, author and botanist, Julia Francis McHugh Morton, was born.

A Fellow of the Linnean Society, Julia Morton was a popular expert and lecturer on plants. She was revered especially for her knowledge of plant medicine and toxicity. Known as the poison-plant lady, Morton worked to educate the public through letters and phone calls, lectures, and articles - even creating posters designed for hospital emergency rooms.

Among the many ER calls, she received was one from a doctor in Scotland. A patient back from a Jamaican holiday was gravely ill. Morton deduced that a noxious castor bean from a souvenir necklace had been ingested.

Over the years Morton has been the subject of many newspaper articles. Clever headlines showcase Morton's expertise, "She gets to the root of problems" and "She leaves no leaf unturned".

In 1988, the Miami News published an article about Morton'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 Morton a half-Inch blade of grass that was stuck to the door handle of the car, and some pieces of leaves that were wedged inside the door. Morton Identified the grass as Giant Burma Reed. Then, she spread the leaves out in the water and determined that they were the undeveloped leaflets of Spanish Needles.

Morton's conclusion was 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 body of the girl. And, she predicted that there were two killers. Morton 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, policemen found an area that matched Morton'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 Marcus E. Jones, Julia Morton died from injuries sustained in a car accident in 1996. She was 84.


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Julia Morton
Julia Morton