Beauty comes with a price.
In the evolutionary arms race to both attract pollinators to their flowers and repel herbivores from munching on their leaves, many plants have developed an arsenal of chemical weapons. Carefully created compounds inside many plants’ leaves, roots, seeds and stems give them a defense mechanism against passing grazers. What many of us don’t realize, however, is that some of the loveliest flowers in a bouquet can also be some of the deadliest. While it would take quite a bit of munching on these drop dead gorgeous blooms to actually cause a human much harm, their toxic nature certainly lends a new respect to these frilly florist favorites.
Lily of the Valley
When Kate Middleton walked down the aisle holding that white lily of the valley wedding bouquet, florists’ phones rang. Old fashioned, but never out of favor, this lovely bloom (Convalleria majalis) has tiny, bell-shaped flowers along a dainty curling stem. While fashion experts and floral tweet followers couldn’t get enough of this bloom, even a small bite of its flowers or berries can lead to extreme abdominal pain and cardiac distress.
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A perennial favorite in French and English cottage gardens, the tall, pendulous blooms of foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) are at their peak in summer and are a wonder to behold. Straight stems reaching 2 to 4 feet in length make this a focal point of flower arrangements and a great addition to any garden. Along with making lovely, individual purple or pink blooms with a white throat and dark spots on the inside, this plant also secretes a toxin that can literally stop your heart. The entire plant is toxic when eaten, but it was used medicinally in small quantities to help regulate heart conditions. Look, but don’t eat, this classy bloom.
A favorite flower for bridal bouquets, the single, rolled petal and yellow center of the Calla Lily (Zantedeschia aethiopica) comes in white, yellow, purple, orange and pink. Prized for its gracefully arched stem and elegantly shaped bloom, this flower creates microscopic crystals out of calcium oxalate (which is the same chemical compound that forms kidney stones in humans). These sharp crystals, called raphides, cause tiny microscopic tears inside the mouth and esophagus when eaten. This irritation leads inflammation in the throat, making it hard to breath if eaten. When cooked, the leaves can actually be consumed with no adverse results.