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#33236 - 09/13/13 04:36 PM How Chris McCandless Died
Bee Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 1261
Loc: Northern California
For anyone who has studied toxic vegetation as I have, this article will be of interest:

The New Yorker: How Chris McCandless Died
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The body betrays and the weather conspires, hopefully, not on the same day.

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#33249 - 09/13/13 11:55 PM Re: How Chris McCandless Died [Re: Bee]
Steve C Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 7718
Loc: Fresno, CA
Bee, thanks for posting that. On my way to work this AM, I heard NPR news mention something about McCandless, but did not hear the piece from "All Things Considered". So I read the article linked above with great interest. What a detective story!

Then I looked up the NPR site, and they have an interview with Jon Krakauer, who literally "wrote the book on McCandless". It pretty much summarizes the New Yorker article, but is good to listen: Did Jon Krakauer Finally Solve 'Into The Wild' Mystery?

To summarize: McCandless was subsisting on small game, roots, berries and seeds. He collected and ate the seeds of a "wild potato" plant, Hedysarum alpinum, which is described as nontoxic in books and scientific literature. But they are wrong, in some situations -- one being McCandless' age and condition: young male living on a subsistence diet. Jon Krakaur found a paper published by Ron Hamilton, who had knowledge of a WWII prison camp, Vapniarca, where lack of food led to giving the prisoners horse feed ("pea fodder"), which led to many prisoners' slow paralysis, a disease called Lathyrus.

Hamilton's paper, The Silent Fire: ODAP and the Death of Christopher McCandless describes sampling and experimenting with the Alaskan wild potato seeds, and finding they contain higher concentrations of ODAP, the toxic protein that causes lathyrus, than the other plants known to be toxic. While the disease is known to permanently paralyze thousands in the poorest third-world areas, until Hamilton's discovery, the wild potato was considered safe and edible.

The only curious question that comes to mind: Why didn't Hamilton contact Krakauer when he made the discovery or posted his paper? It seems that months passed before Krakauer discovered the paper on his own.

It is all quite an interesting chemistry detective story.

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#33250 - 09/14/13 12:04 AM Re: How Chris McCandless Died [Re: Steve C]
Bee Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 1261
Loc: Northern California
I have both a Chemistry & Hortoculture background, so the topic of edible/toxic plants intrigues me. A couple of weeks ago, I spent hours studying the difference between Water Hemlock, wild Parsely & wild carrots. At a glance, they all look alike, but the slightest contact with Water Hemlock is fatal.

I am still not comfortable enough to eat other plants that look similar to Water Hemlock (the deadliest plant in North America -- with no known antidote)

Anyhow, the list of toxic plants & their side effects can leave one to choose death by starvation, rather than suffer the alternate consequences of the poisons.
_________________________
The body betrays and the weather conspires, hopefully, not on the same day.

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#33251 - 09/14/13 12:26 AM Re: How Chris McCandless Died [Re: Bee]
Steve C Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 7718
Loc: Fresno, CA
Water hemlock? By "contact" do you mean ingesting it?

Is THIS that plant? From the "high trail" route to Thousand Island Lake from Agnew Meadows:


It sure looks like all the plants in this Google image search for water hemlock.

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#33252 - 09/14/13 12:58 AM Re: How Chris McCandless Died [Re: Steve C]
Bee Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 1261
Loc: Northern California
....and so begins the struggle: Is THIS it??

* I would have to see the oil/sap

* I would have to cross cut it to see the hollow interior structure

* At closer look, was there maroon highlighting on the green?


As I mentioned above, there are at least 3 other common look alikes (this one looks like the wild parsley due to the leaf structure, but without a specimen, I don't dare guess)

THIS IS A PLANT THAT YOU DO NOT WANT TO MAKE A CASUAL MISTAKE WITH, so avoid anything with a white umbel (whoorl-like flower structure) and parsely-like leaves in the wild.

Toxicity? Just getting the sap on your hands and accidentally transferring a miniscule amount can be deadly. There is strict protocol when handling this deadly beast.
_________________________
The body betrays and the weather conspires, hopefully, not on the same day.

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#33255 - 09/14/13 09:14 AM Re: How Chris McCandless Died [Re: Bee]
2600fromatari Offline


Registered: 10/18/10
Posts: 453
Loc: San Diego
Thanks for the little education there. Here I thought the worst plant I'd find in California is Poison Oak or Ivy. Scary indeed. eek

Originally Posted By: Bee
I have both a Chemistry & Hortoculture background, so the topic of edible/toxic plants intrigues me. A couple of weeks ago, I spent hours studying the difference between Water Hemlock, wild Parsely & wild carrots. At a glance, they all look alike, but the slightest contact with Water Hemlock is fatal.

I am still not comfortable enough to eat other plants that look similar to Water Hemlock (the deadliest plant in North America -- with no known antidote)

Anyhow, the list of toxic plants & their side effects can leave one to choose death by starvation, rather than suffer the alternate consequences of the poisons.

Top
#33256 - 09/14/13 09:34 AM Re: How Chris McCandless Died [Re: 2600fromatari]
Bee Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 1261
Loc: Northern California
It is our good fortune that Water Hemlock is not a large presence in Ca like Poison Oak. Mostly, it is found on the east coast,and in northern areas because it requires wet, marshy conditions (think:Michigan)
_________________________
The body betrays and the weather conspires, hopefully, not on the same day.

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