George Stahl: Killer Flora

By George Stahl
Special to the Sun

They do exist. Killer flora. Not exactly the kind that can talk and sing, i.e. “Feed Me Seymour!’ but they do have the ability to scratch, eat, and spit poison at people and animals. They do not come from other worlds, like Audrey II in Little Shop of Horrors, nor are they demon-possessed. These plants are scattered all over the world, and they have an agenda. Item one, to protect themselves, at any cost to human or animal or fellow plant life. Then, there is item two. Domination!

Ok, that introduction might seem a little more dramatic than the situation warrants, but for the victims of these primal, evil plants, it is certainly justified. So, what are these flora that can attack? These vicious creatures are not your ordinary, run of the mill Oleanders. They do not line the freeways, act as fences between yards, and they are not used as filler in your backyard. No. These killer’s elite are very particular in where they grow, and how they are taken care of.

Among these assassins are at least eight that are listed under every search category of dangerous plants. Water Hemlock, White Snakeroot, Daffodils, (Really. Deadly plant? Oh yeah, very.) Deadly Nightshade, Castor Bean, Rosary Pea, Oleander, and Tobacco, (Apparently if eaten, produces a faster death than if smoked). These are all leafy, green, flowering plants, the first three on the list are found here in the United States, the rest in various parts of the world.

Plants come in all sorts of types, forms and appearances. What is often overlooked as being a plant, are the thousands of species, of succulents of the flora world. Two of the most dangerous looks like they could come from Audrey II’s planet. If not, then from that place on the outside of reality called…’The Twilight Zone’. The Jumping Cholla Cactus is one of the weirdest and most dangerous cacti. This fella can actually throw tiny barbs or spears at you if you get to close to it. Invade this killer’s personal space and be prepared to pay the consequences for your curiosity.

These have found a home in the Arizona desert for millions of years. Man has shared this home with this menace for only about 9,000 years. Maybe on the outside 12,000, but the point is, these plants have had a chance to evolve, and to refine there hunting techniques for a lot longer than man has been living with them. Even a plant can get a grasp of what it is doing after that long. Their training in warfare had been perfected by the time we came along. You do not want to mess with a Jumping Cholla Cactus.

They can actually use the wind, or a gentle breeze to deliver their deadly arsenal of missiles and barbs called, Glochids. Once they attach to you, the large and fine spikes dig into your skin like barbs on fish hooks, Your first instinct would be to pull them out…wrong! Your second would be to try to bite them out…even more wrong! You do that and they will cling to your lips and tongue, and eventually you could swallow one, having deadly effects.

If you get caught in the cross-hairs of this plant, use a large comb, or stick to remove the barbs. Be careful though so you don’t send them hurling into someone near you. If they were your friend before you starting flinging these death spears at them, they won’t be when their scraping them out of their arms, legs, and…

Best thing to do when it comes to a potential encounter with a Jumping Cholla Cactus? Stay on the other side of the road.

Now, take a deep breath. We are going to go where no man, or woman should have gone before. It has several names. The Pencil Cactus Plant, Indian Tree Sponge, Milk Bush, and for some reason, not very obvious, The Naked Lady. The most common, and probably most appropriate name is, The Firestick Plant. This is a beast. It is the Jaws of the plant world. Every place where one grows should have a sign, ‘Plant area closed. Stay at least 50 yards away.’ If Audrey II had a counterpart, it would be this wicked flora. The plant is not a bad looking plant. It has a green stem, orange and yellow highlights and needs very little water. It can grow in direct sun, survive extreme heat and freezing temperatures. Sounds perfect. Very little maintenance.

Remember though, Audrey II needed little attention too. Just a gallon of human blood every day or so, and he was fine. Outside he looked great, docile. The Firestick is the same way. It’s what inside that counts. Yeah, heard that before. In this case, it’s true. Inside this lovely succulent lurks an acid, corrosive, toxic white sap. If it gets on your skin it burns the tissues like a blow torch. If it gets in your eye, it burns its way around every part of your eye ball and finally settles on your cornea and scratches the heck out of it. I know someone who this happened to, and trust me it hurts like no other hurt. If you look at Firestick in the dictionary, there is a picture of the devil holding one and smiling.

Bottom line here, for the sake of all that is good, never plant one of these killer floras! And if there is one on your property, call a professional to dig it out by the roots and burn it. Poison plants and killer cactus, evil flora of any kind should not have the upper hand in this relationship. We are man! And we are scared.

Just Writing Out Loud.