Mental Floss

The Quick 10: 10 Flowers You Don't Want to Put in Your May Day Basket

Stacy Conradt
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Happy May Day! There are all kinds of cute ideas for what you can do for your friends and family today, if you're inclined to do that sort of thing. Martha's got some flower cones and some green-friendly ideas by recycling tin cans and jelly jars into flower containers, but why not say it with poisonous flowers? Let's turn May Day into a scary holiday like Halloween. Doesn't this sound the plot to a terrible '80s horror flick? "It all started with a bouquet of flowers... from HELL."

Sorry, I digress. Today's Quick 10 is about plants to avoid when you're out frolicking in nature to put together your May Day baskets today. Because you're all out doing that, right?

1. Oleander. Whatever element of surprise this deadly beauty had was probably ruined when Janet Fitch's 1999 novel White Oleander got big: the mom in the story killed her womanizing boyfriend by smearing a concoction that included oleander sap all over his stuff (it was a movie too). I know, you're skeptical: could that really kill someone? The answer: yep. Small amounts can be lethal or nearly lethal for adults, and you definitely want to keep kids and pets away from it. It's pretty uncommon around these parts though: less than 1,000 cases of oleander poisoning are reported in the U.S. every year. In places like Sri Lanka, suicide by oleander seed is becoming way too common because the pretty plant grows wild by the roadside. People have started taking it for trivial reasons because it's so easy to get; one doctor reported that a teenage girl ate a seed because her mother refused to take her shopping.

calla
calla /

4. Fool's Parsley is related to poison hemlock.

If you're trying to off someone, though, it would be pretty silly to use Fool's Parsley because it's easily detected. It can inflame the eyelids and makes the stomach lining very red and irritated. But like hellebore, it has its good side, too: a really diluted form of the plant can help stop seizures in little kids.

dropwort
dropwort /

6. Purple Nightshade. It's partly the fault of this lavender sprout that the tomato was thought to be a bad guy for many years (they're both part of the Solanaceae family, along with eggplant, chili peppers and belladonna).

mescalbean
mescalbean /
camas
camas /

10. Belladonna. It's a baaaaad plant (shut your mouth). It's one of the plants that were used to create poisoned arrows back in the days of early man, and was frequently used in ancient Rome to get rid of people - Emperor Augustus fell to it when his wife allegedly poisoned him and Macbeth of Scotland used it to poison opposing troops. Back when people believed in witches, they were also pretty sure that the witches used some sort of belladonna mixture to make themselves fly. Oh, and it's called belladonna because women used it to make themselves more beautiful ("bella donna" is Italian for "beautiful women). Using an extract of belladonna directly in the eyes dilated the pupils, which was apparently a sign of beauty in ancient times.

Have you ever eaten something you wish you hadn't? I remember once I found some R.C. Cola out in my parents' garage and drank some. To this day, they keep a fridge in the garage full of nothing put pop and beer, so I thought nothing of the two-liter bottle sitting in the garage (on the counter next to the fridge, mind you). I mentioned something about it later and my dad said, "You didn't DRINK that?!" And I said of course I did, to which he replied, "Well, it had motor oil in it. But you look like you're going to survive, I guess."

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