Spring is in the air and plants and grasses are beginning to sprout. I thought it would be a good time to post about the latest painting added to my website called "Memory Field." It is a landscape painting of a field of grain ready for harvest in front of a vibrant blue sky that I painted from memory. This piece was part of the "Dangerous Beauties, Poisonous Plants and How to Love Them" series.
The poisonous plant featured in this painting is not really a plant per say but a group of fungi in the genus Claviceps. Ergot also refers to the typically elongated fungal structure, technically known as a sclerotium. The spores attack open flowers of rye, pretending to be a grain of pollen, which gives access to the ovary. The fungus does not kill the plant but it is toxic to people. It contains a precursor to LSD that survives the process of being baked into bread.
In the Middle Ages, outbreaks called St. Anthony's fire or dancing mania made entire villages go crazy at once. Because rye is a peasant grain, outbreaks of the illness were more common in the lower class, fueling revolutions and peasant uprisings.
Some historians have speculated that the Salem witch trials came about because girls poisoned by ergot had seizures that led townspeople to conclude that they'd been bewitched.