The Poisons Collection: What do Breaking Bad, Christianity and Wills n Kate have in common?

Picture1To answer the titles question the thing that Breaking Bad, Christianity and Wills n Kate have in common is a plant by the name of lily of the valley. Another beautiful killer to add to the poisonous plant collection here today on That Biologist. The lily of the valley is surrounded by religion and traditions as well as having a rough total of 38 cardiac glycosides found in the plant (Atkinson et al., 2008). This makes it highly poisonous and its also wonderfully common.

The scientific name of lily of the valley is Convallaria majalis. It’s a perennial that spreads by underground rhizomes (Songyun, 2011). It’s recognisable through its bell shaped white (sometimes light pink) flowers and can be found throughout the cool temperate regions of the northern hemisphere often in woodlands (Steinbergs, 2008).

These rather sweet small plants pop up throughout our culture. In Christianity lily of the valley appear a few times. Its used a symbol of humility and the story goes that it grew from the tears of the virgin mary at the crucifixion of Jesus. Another story says it grew from the tears of Eve after she was driven out of the Garden of Eden with Adam (Birth Flowers Guide, 2006CONVALLARIA MAJALIS3). It was used in the bridal bouquet of Prince William and Kate Middleton as well as being in the hair piece of Pippa her sister (Scala, 2011). Finally it was used in the television series breaking bad as a poison of one of the characters (being careful about spoilers here).

Although that point brings me nicely on how this delicate little plant could kill you. The whole plant is poisonous including the berrys and leaves (Perez, 2011). Due to the cardiac glycosides it can cause irregular heart rates. The plant also has saponins which cause gastrointestinal poisoning, this involves lots of nasty things like being sick and diarrhea. Luckily all of these effects only occur if you ingest any part of the plant (Robertson, 2014).

To conclude there is hope if you did happen to have a nibble on this plant although it will mean a trip to the emergency room. It may also involve a temporary pacemaker to counter act the cardiac glycosides (Soniak, 2011). Its still probably best to avoid taking a snack of these guys when you’re on a walk in the woods and pack some sandwiches instead!

References

Atkinson, K., Fine, D., Evans, T. & Khan, S.. (2008). Suspected lily-of-the-valley ( Convallaria majalis) toxicosis in a dog. Journal of Veterinary Emergency & Critical Care.. 18 (4), 399-403.

Birth Flowers Guide. (2006). May Birth Flower. Available: http://www.birthflowersguide.com/may-birth-flower.html. Last accessed 11/11/2015.

Perez, E. (2011). Lily of the Valley. Available: http://www.nytimes.com/health/guides/poison/lily-of-the-valley/overview.html. Last accessed 11/11/2015.

Robertson, J.. (2014). Convallaria majalis. Available: http://www.thepoisongarden.co.uk/atoz/convallaria_majalis.htm. Last accessed 11/11/15.

Scala, J. (2011). Lily of the Valley Stars in Royal Bridal Bouquet. Available: http://www.aboutflowersblog.com/lily-of-the-valley-stars-in-royal-bridal-bouquet/. Last accessed 11/11/2015.

Steinbergs, A. (2011). Lily of the Valley. Available: http://www.theplantexpert.com/springbulbs/LilyoftheValley.html. Last accessed 11/11/2015.

Songyun, L. (2011). Convallaria. Available: http://www.efloras.org/florataxon.aspx?flora_id=2&taxon_id=107908. Last accessed 11/11/2015.

Soniak, M.. (2011). How Poisonous is Lily of the Valley. Available: http://mentalfloss.com/article/28967/how-poisonous-lily-valley. Last accessed 11/11/15.

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