I’ve blogged before about some deceptively attractive plants that can be lethal when ingested, and I’ve recently discovered one more to add to the list.
Parts of the beautiful, flowering narcissus plant can be quite poisonous and deadly! Narcissus is a popular ornamental plant for personal gardens, community parks and as cut flowers in the spring and early summer. But it can be as toxic as it is beautiful and is on the list of the top ten most poisonous plants in the world.
The Tulipa/Narcissus plant species, with up to 60 different varieties, originally came from Holland. This plant is commonly known by its three most popular varieties: the narcissus, the jonquil and the daffodil. All species of the narcissus plant family, however, contain a common deadly element: the poison lycorine.
Lycorine is a toxic crystalline alkaloid that is highly poisonous, and can be fatal if enough of the plant is ingested. Lycorine is found mostly in the bulbs of the narcissus plant family, but it is also present in the leaves.
This alkaloid inhibits protein synthesis. Depending on the amount consumed, the poison can produce intense gastrointestinal irritation, drooling, loss of appetite, headaches, low blood pressure, central nervous system depression, convulsions and cardiac abnormalities. If someone is given a large enough dose, death could result.
The Handbook of Poisonous and Injurious Plants by Lewis S. Nelson et al describes the symptoms of narcissus poisoning well and warns that children under six are especially vulnerable.
An interesting side note is that florists who handle the plant’s leaves often develop a stubborn dermatitis. The condition is called “daffodil itch” and the symptoms include dryness, skin cracking and fissures, scaling and extreme redness of the skin. There is also an accompanying thickening of the skin beneath the nails from exposure to the plant’s sap.
The daffodil variety of Tulipa/Narcissus is responsible for many accidental poisonings since the daffodil bulbs look so similar to onions and might mistakenly be substituted in cooking for onions. There is evidence in literature that consumption of one or two daffodil bulbs could prove lethal for the average adult human.
On May 1st, 2009 school children at a primary school in Martlesham Heath, Suffolk, England became seriously ill after a single daffodil bulb was added to soup by mistake during a cooking class.
So the next time you’re searching for an interesting method to kill off a character in your story, have another character cook up a batch of onion soup using several daffodil bulbs instead. The soup will be deliciously deadly!
Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them!