Poison and Other Stuff You Can Find in Your Yard

“Have you ever heard of risin?”

It definitely sounded familiar, and I decided to buy time to see if my brain would kick in to gear by staring at the spindly tree in question in more detail. I could feel my friend the biologist getting antsy as she politely waited to see if I was going to come up with a response.

“Poison, right?” I knew watching all of those episodes of Breaking Bad would eventually pay off.

She met my smile with a grimace. “It’s one of THE deadliest poisons.” She then pointed at one of the 50 or so clusters of beans hanging from the tree. “They make it from the castor oil beans.”

I stared at the beans. “Huh.”

But it makes pretty flowers...

But it makes pretty flowers…

We’ve been in Costa Rica for almost two years now so while on one hand I am now expecting the unexpected, I still find myself surprised on a regular basis.

“So… probably not something I want growing next to my house?”

She narrowed her gaze, trying to see if I was kidding. “Well, let me ask you. Would either of your boys or their friends ever put one of these beans in their mouth if they came across it?”

I went back to staring at the clusters of beans slowly swaying in the wind.

If one bean is good, how about 5,000?

If one bean is good, how about 5,000?

Thing #1 was a non-event as he examined every fruit and vegetable for defects both real and perceived. A minor bruise on a banana rendered it inedible. He’d never eat anything hanging, unwashed in a tree or, worse yet, laying in the dirt.

Thing #2, however… Only a couple of weeks before Thing #1 (also affectionately known as Narcolous) came running up to me to report on the actions of his brother. This time around Thing #2 had deliberately eaten the leaf of an Angel Trumpet. I’d been briefed on this plant, which produces deceptively beautiful flowers, by a number of people upon our arrival in Costa Rica. Every part of the Angel Trumpet is toxic, which apparently inspires some portion of the teen population to try it as a hallucinogen (getting sick enough to see angels, hopefully only temporarily).

I immediately questioned Thing #2. We’d already talked about never, ever, ever touching, much less ingesting an Angel Trumpet. Why would he ignore that warning and eat a leaf?


In typical Thing #2 fashion he’d only smiled, a little green leafy material caught between his front teeth, and said, “I didn’t eat the whole leaf, just part of it.”

I’d never get the opportunity to know the actual truth of it, but he did not become ill or see angels so perhaps he’d just snuck in some mint.

My biologist friend again waited patiently for my brain to reach the end of this memory so I could rejoin the conversation. Her patience was eventually rewarded with my decision.

“I guess I’ll chop it down then.”

She nodded. “Make sure you get the roots too, and any beans that fall.”

We then walked around to the other side of my house, where she pointed out several other extremely poisonous plants that were doing quite well in my yard. I was distracted from the Latin names of these somewhat less lethal plants by the plan I was forming to remove the castor bean plant and all related traces at a time and location that wouldn’t involve the presence of Thing #2, who would no doubt try to save a bean for future use, or Thing #1, who would tell Thing #2 where to find the remains.

And to think, they’ll be driving in just a few years.