Plants which are poisonous flowering bulbs can be found in most gardens.
This doesn’t mean that we are all at risk from pretty flowering plants.
The most toxic part of these plants is concentrated in the bulb, rather than the leaf or flower, and the bulb tends to be under the soil and therefore out of reach for most of the time.
Those most likely to be at risk from eating the poisonous flowering bulbs are pet dogs, who may dig them up and then eat them, or children, who perhaps see the bulbs waiting on the shelf, ready to be planted.
Adults do sometimes mistake the poisonous flowering bulbs for onions or shallots. So the moral there is don’t leave your daffodil bulbs in the kitchen!
If poisoning is suspected, ring the medical helpline or vet. Keep a sample of the plant to take with you to the doctor or vet, in case an antidote is needed. If the symptoms seem severe, then immediate treatment is necessary; so take the person straight to A&E.
And now, for those six poisonous flowering bulbs, with beautiful photographs…
The alkaloids in this bulb will cause trembling and vomiting if eaten. However, large quantities of the bulb would need to be eaten to cause these symptoms and as it has a bitter taste, it is unlikely that many people or animals would willingly eat enough to cause much damage.
Daffodils contain lycorine, an alkaloid that triggers vomiting. Eating the bulb, plant, or flower can cause severe vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and possibly even heart or respiratory depression.
Similar to hyacinths, crystals found in the outer layer of daffodil bulbs cause severe skin irritation (also known as ‘florists itch’).
Eating daffodils may result in severe symptoms that require immediate treatment.
A member of the lily family, and much prized for its heavily scented flowers, it has the potential to be a seriously dangerous plant.
The skin irritant in these poisonous flowering bulbs is oxalic acid; whereas the glycosides will cause severe nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
Snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis)
This is an Amaryllis family bulbous herb, prized by gardeners and non-gardeners alike for its early blooming flowers.
The small bulbs contain alkaloids these may cause nausea, diarrhoea and vomiting; it can also induce miscarriage in early pregnancy. However, in a number of countries the alkaloid, galanthamine, found in Galanthus nivalis, has been approved for use in managing Alzheimer’s.
Tulips contain allergenic lactones, similar those found in hyacinths.
Typical signs of poisoning include profuse drooling, vomiting, and diarrhoea. If large amounts of bulbs have been eaten, more severe symptoms, such as an increase in heart rate and changes in respiration, may be seen.
There are dangerous and benign lilies – and the dangerous ones can be deadly, particularly to cats.
Peace lilies and Calla lilies contain oxalate crystals that cause minor signs of illness, such as tissue irritation in the mouth, tongue, which may cause drooling.
The potentially fatal lilies are true lilies, including Tiger lilies, Day lilies and Asiatic lilies.
So what is the answer?
Well, you could decide that the people and animals who use your garden are at high risk of eating poisonous flowering bulbs and decide not to grow any of them.
Or you could take care so that pets and small children don’t have the opportunity to eat anything potentially poisonous.
Or you may not have any pets or small children who would be at risk, so you can please yourself.
And as with most flowers, bulbs, shrubs and trees which grow in our gardens and in the countryside, there can be a health risk even from the most innocuous looking plant. The rule is always, if you’re not sure what it is, don’t eat it and often, don’t touch it!
And the positive note? Many of those poisonous flowering bulbs and plants have given us lifesaving medicines. Wonderful thing, nature…