Not so fast, plant arsonists

The Cecil column on spontaneous combustion in plants contains one reference that is, at best, a gross exaggeration.

It states that when you hold a match up to blooms of Dictamnus albus (the “gas plant”), the volatile oils released by the flowers will burst into flame.

This story is mentioned by a number of gardening texts. But no gardening author I’ve ever read has said that they were able to do this. And I’ve never talked to anyone who confirmed that it happened to them. There are various excuses (it wasn’t warm enough, the humidity was wrong etc.) but a lack of evidence to suggest that one can routinely light Dictamnus blossoms with a match.

So while I can’t rule out this event occurring sporadically, it seems to be more of an horticultural (urban) legend than fact.

Perhaps one would have better luck lighting farts.

Welcome to the SDMB, Jackmannii. A link to column being discussed is useful: Is there a bush that spontaneously bursts into flame to reproduce?

Perhaps they’re only really flammable in their native area? I’d think that there would have to be totally still air for a concentration to get high enough, as well as a good temperature.

Then again, it does sound a bit unlikely.

Well, this is different, at least.

All the other gardening hits for “dictamnus flammable” have it as the seedpods, old flowers, and/or leaves.

I did find “purportedly” and “sometimes” in a couple of places, but everybody else seems to accept it as fact.



Well, shucks and damnation, I read the title of Arnold W.'s “sticky” and figured a mention would substitute for a link. But thanks for repairing my omission, Wikkit, and hope you have a wonderful week in Muscatine or wherever the hell you’re from.

And thanks to DDG for impressive research.

Cecil’s column has jogged a memory for me. A few years ago, while driving to work, I was listening to an all-news radio station as usual, and Charles Osgood was on with one of his daily commentaries. In this case I thought it was especially laughable. He said that someone in India had found a plant, and it had properties much like the one in Cecil’s column. The “discoverer” refused to show it to anyone until they paid him some major bucks. Scientists were, of course, skeptical. I couldn’t find anything about this on the web (surprise).

Osgood didn’t have an email address, so I couldn’t get details from him. He also had a few critical words about scientists who wouldn’t consider something new. Of course, Osgood didn’t give a follow-up on this story, either (surprise again).

I wonder if there’s any connection between the supposed flammability of this “gas” plant and Osgood’s story.