Feature Article

Media bias: dangerous fruits, flowers and foliage

[TamilNet, Monday, 19 April 2004, 14:07 GMT]
The Liberation Tigers’ adoption in November 2003 of the Gloriosa Lily as the national flower of Tamil Eelam, featured on TamilNet last week, prompted a spate of sensational news reports linking the flower with death and suicide. But, while the ‘Karthigaipoo’ joins a small group of poisonous flowers that have been adopted as national flowers, like France’s Fleur-de-Lis, some more innocuous flowers and plants have proven deadlier.

Proclaiming it as the Tamil Eelam national flower, the LTTE urged people to grow the Gloriosa Lily, which blooms throughout the Northeast, and to wear it on important national days.

“Sri Lanka's Tamil Tiger rebels have adopted a poisonous lily as their official flower,” the BBC said in an uncharacteristically breathless report.

“They are urging people to grow the flower in their homes. They want people to wear the karthigaipoo on occasions of national significance,” it said further.

The BBC’s report was picked up by the Washington Times and the Economist.

“This particular lily also shares another characteristic with the Tamil Tiger fighters - it is deadly poisonous,” the BBC report observed.

The AFP went a step further, reporting the development thus: “Ingesting any part of the vine or the flower is poisonous and its roots are used to commit suicide. The LTTE is known for its trademark suicide bombers known as the Black Tigers and the group's fighters wear a cyanide capsule around their necks to avoid being taken alive by government forces.”

But being poisonous is not necessarily a bar to being adopted as a national flower, and the blooms’ colors and shapes, rather than their lethality, raise associations with the countries concerned.

France’s famous Fleur de lis (the Iris), for example, is poisonous, with all parts of the plant being dangerous if ingested.

The Dutch national flower, the Tulip, is also poisonous, with a single bulb containing enough toxin to kill a person.

And many deadlier varieties of flowers are commonly grown in homes, albeit often unknowingly. A list of dangerous plants compiled by Washington State’s department of health, for example, marks some surprising garden plants as ‘lethal’ – while listing the Gloriosa, Tulip and Iris as poisonous.

The Daffodil is classified as lethal. Both the flowers and bulbs of this well-known spring flowering bulbs are dangerous.

The Poppy (seeds, foliage, roots) and Crocusus (the whole plant) are also listed as lethal.

Plants associated with Christmas celebrations are dangerous. The romantic Mistletoe is classified as lethal (the foliage and fruit), whilst Holly berries, like most parts of the tree, are poisonous.

Jasmine berries can prove fatal.

The foliage, roots and fruits of the Bleeding Heart, a popular garden plant, have proved fatal to cattle.

Many members of the Lily family, including Gloriosa, are toxic.

All parts of the Foxglove, a widespread weed and garden plant in temperate climates, are very poisonous.

Buttercups can severely injure the digestive system.

Amongst other houseplants, the a single Rosary Pea seed has reportedly death while one or two Castor Bean seeds are considered near the lethal dose for adults.

The US Army Centre for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine lists other surprises.

The flowers of the Magnolia and the flower buds of the Hyacinth are poisonous,as are the leaves of the Daisy. The Sweet Pea plant can cause permanent paralysis if ingested.

Several varieties of Nightshade are toxic, even as several members of the family have edible fruits.

Danger thus lurks even amongst ordinary food varieties.

All green parts of the aubergine (eggplant) plant – a member of the nightshade family - are poisonous. While the fruits are nutritious (and make a popular curry in Sri Lanka), the leaves are toxic.

The Peach fruit’s kernel contains a lethal amount of cyanide, but the very hard corrugated stone around them is not easily broken.

The Apricot’s seed is also dangerous, as is the Avocado’s (as well as the plant’s leaves).

The sprouts and unripe (green or whitish) berries of some varieties of the humble Potato plant are poisonous to children, as are tubers which are green from light exposure.

The leaf blades of the Rhubarb can cause convulsions, coma and rapid death in large quantities.

The leaves, vines and sprouts of the Tomato are dangerous.

Uncooked Asparagus shoots are poisonous, as are small bright red berries produced by mature female plants in summer.

Most parts of the ornamental evergreen Yew tree are toxic, with foliage more dangerous than berries – death is usually sudden without symptoms.

The seeds of the horse chestnut, popular played with by school children as conkers, are mildly poisonous. The acorns and leaves of the Oak are dangerous and can affect kidneys over time.

Not all plants listed as ‘poisonous’ are necessarily lethal (these classified on some lists as ‘toxic’) unless ingested in large quantities. Some plants are deemed poisonous because they have properties that are harmful, such as allergic reactions, skin irritations or internal poisoning.

But among the well known killers is Oleander, the most widely used for suicides in Sri Lanka. Even smoke from burning and water in which flowers are placed are dangerous.

All parts of Water Hemlock and aptly named Poison Hemlock can prove fatal.

TamilNet leaves it to readers to judge for themselves the bias in the reporting by the international media.

External Links:
Washington Times: Sri Lanka rebels adopt poison flower
BBC: Tamil Tigers adopt poisonous lily


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