Professor of Biology Beth Newell will present “Wild Inedibles,” a discussion about poisonous plants, on Monday, March 31, at 7:30 p.m. in the South Parlor of the Presbyterian Church in Geneva (24 Park Place). Her talk is part of the 2014 Community Read, sponsored by Geneva Reads, the theme of which this year is the outdoors and self-reliance.
One of the featured books in this year’s program was John Krakauer’s “Into the Wild,” in which he tells the true story of how the late Christopher McCandless gave up most of his possessions in April 1992, donated $25,000 in savings to charity, and traveled throughout the American West and Southwest before his fateful journey to Alaska. Krakauer believes McCandless’ death was caused by his mistakenly eating a poisonous plant.
In her talk, Newell will address such relevant questions as “Did eating the seeds of wild potato kill Chris McCandless?” “Why are plants poisonous, anyway?” and “What other potential killers from the plant world are lurking ‘in the wild?'”
She will discuss how to identify which plants are poisonous and which ones are good to eat and will lead attendees in using their powers of observation to distinguish between poisonous and non-poisonous plants. Newell also will talk about the evolution of plant poisons and discuss how humans have learned over the centuries how to use plant poisons to treat human ailments.
Newell gives as examples: “Foxglove, a flowering plant found in many gardens in Geneva, is the source of digoxin drugs which have been used for many years to treat heart conditions. However, the entire plant is toxic if eaten. Deadly nightshade is a poisonous plant, as its name suggests. However, it also produces a compound called atropine that has been used to treat symptoms of Parkinson’s disease and to dilate pupils during eye exams. Mayapple is a spring-flowering plant that produces little apple-like fruits in May. Any plant part other than the ripe fruit is poisonous, but compounds in this plant have also been used successfully to treat warts.”
Since coming to the Colleges in 1988, Newell has completed research projects in Costa Rica and Panama and has mentored students in research projects at Zurich Bog. Newell has numerous journal articles published in the area of plant physiological ecology and was a Diplomacy Fellow at the U.S. Agency for International Development. Newell received her B.S. from Bates College and her Ph.D. from Stanford University.
Community Read month is co-sponsored by Geneva 2020. Books for the Community Read and Book Fest are provided by Geneva Reads, with grant money from the Wyckoff Family Foundation. Support for this year’s event is also coming from the Geneva Public Library, The Smith Center for the Arts, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and WEOS (Finger Lakes Public Radio, a service of HWS). Finger Lakes Federal Credit Union is the lead sponsor of the Book Fest.
For more information, visit https://sites.google.com/site/genevareads/