Spotted in the Parc du Luberon.

Spotted in the Parc du Luberon- the wild sweet pea: is it poisonous or not? Read below..

Into the Wild. Another Poisonous Plant Fable?

 In Jon Krakauer’s book Into The Wild. (“You should read it!”), dwelling especially on the “cause” of Christopher McCandless’ death. The ending sounded disturbingly like another rendition of the Poison Plant Fable to me, but many very intelligent people, convinced by Krakauer’s skillful prose, would argue, “No, it’s really true!”

Into The Wild is about an emotionally embattled young man named Chris McCandless who left his affluent upbringings behind, renamed himself Alex, and wandered the West searching for purpose and identity. His decaying body was found by a moose hunter in Alaska on September 6, 1992.

Through an autopsy, medical examiners determined that McCandless had starved to death, and all evidence pointed clearly and unambiguously to that conclusion. But the Poison Plant Fable proved irresistible to Krakauer, who first wrote about the tragedy in “Death of an Innocent,” (a January 1993 article in Outside magazine). He conjectured that Chris had died by poisoning when he mistook the wild sweet pea Hedysarum mackenziei for the “wild potato” Hedysarum alpinum. But since Chris had clearly starved to death, Krakauer had to reach further, positing that McCandless was “laid low” by the poisoning, and thus unable to feed himself. Since we have all internalized the Poison Plant Fable, this unlikely and scientifically unsupported explanation for Chris’s death was immediately and widely accepted as fact.

But there is no evidence that Chris McCandless ever ate even a single seed of H. mackenziei. Krakauer doesn’t even try to provide such evidence; he simply tells us that the two plants grow beside each other and are “very difficult to distinguish.” Provided with these facts, most people immediately and unquestioningly conclude that McCandless mistook wild sweet pea for wild potato. Like Krakauer, they don’t need any evidence because the Poison Plant Fable says that it happens this way. But how plausible is this?

Well, many scientists and botanists have concluded – the wild sweet pea is NOT poisonous!


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