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

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.

calla2. Zantedeschia. If you think this looks like a Calla lily, that's 'cause it is. Every part of this plant is toxic, but only if ingested - so if you're planning on having them in your wedding bouquet or something, don't worry. Touching the stem isn't going to kill you. If you take it home as a post-wedding snack, that's when you're in trouble: eating the Zantedeschia species has been the death of both livestock and children. Symptoms include swelling of the mouth and throat, acute vomiting and diarrhea.
3. Hellebore. There's a good reason it pops up when authors need to make witches concoct potions and powders since it has been known for its toxic properties since ancient times. At least, "black" hellebore (aka Christmas Rose) has been - it causes everything from vertigo and thirst to swelling of the throat and cardiac arrest. But it's also used in some remedies; some historians think Alexander the Great was taking medicine with hellebore in it and may have accidentally overdosed on it. It was also used in the First Sacred War between the Amphictyonic League of Delphi and the City of Kirrha - Solon of Athens added a bunch of hellebore to Kirrha's water supply and supposedly the city was so incapacitated with diarrhea that they couldn't fight back when Solon's troops invaded.

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.

dropwort5. Water dropwort. They look a lot like parsnips, which is why a group of people found a cluster of them growing in a stream in Argyll, Scotland, and took them home to throw them in a curry. Everyone who ate the curry was terribly sick 10 hours later; one of them even had seizures and started hallucinating. Eventually the cause of the illness was discovered and everyone was treated appropriately. It's a good thing they only consumed the tiny amounts in the stew - eating ONE whole root has been known to kill livestock as big as a cow.

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).

mescalbean7. Mescalbean. It's very pretty, but as little as one seed from the mescalbean can kill you. It also causes hallucinations, as you might have guessed, since "mescalbean" sounds an awful lot like "mescaline," the drug Aldous Huxley and Aleister Crowley both experimented with. However, the drug may not be related to the plant. The drug comes from the peyote cactus and other members of the cacti family; the name has been a source of confusion for many years.
8. Hemlock is another one that can easily be mistaken for an edible root or herb - the leaves look like fennel or parsley and the roots look like parsnip. I love all of the names associated with it: Poison Hemlock, of course, but also Devil's Porridge, Beaver Poison and Poison Parsley. A very small amount of this stuff can be lethal, so it makes sense that it was used in ancient Greece to kill people. It's how Socrates died, actually. When he was found guilty of "impiety" - corruption of youth and disbelief in the appropriate gods - he was forced to drink hemlock poison, which first paralyzed him and then killed him. Red spots on hemlock are sometimes referred to as "the blood of Socrates" because of this.

camas9. Death Camas. So many poisonous plants look like something commonly edible - it's like God (or whatever you believe made the plants) decided to make the two things similar and let Darwinism take care of the rest. Death Camas look suspiciously like onions, but luckily, they don't smell like them. That should be your one saving grace if you're ever out hiking in western America and stumble upon one. All parts of the plant are poisonous, not just the root, although the bulb is the most fatal part: eating just one can cause death. It's known to fell livestock pretty easily - it takes just 2% of an animal's body weight to be a lethal dose.

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."

10 Sweet Facts About Candy Canes

The sweet and striped shepherd’s hooks can be found just about everywhere during the holiday season. It's time you learned a thing or two (or 10) about them.


While the origins of the candy cane are a bit murky, legend has it that they first appeared in hooked form around 1670. Candy sticks themselves were pretty common, but they really took shape when the choirmaster at the Cologne Cathedral in Germany got the bright idea of twisting them to look like shepherd’s hooks. He then handed them out to kids during church services to keep them quiet.


It’s no surprise, then, that it was a German immigrant who introduced the custom to America. The first reference we can find to the tradition stateside is 1847, when August Imgard of Wooster, Ohio, decked his home out with the sugary fare.


Candy canes without the red don’t seem nearly as cheery, do they? But that’s how they were once made: all white. We’re not really sure who or exactly when the scarlet stripe was added, but we do know that images on cards before the 1900s show snow white canes.


Most candy canes are around five inches long, containing only about 50 calories and no fat or cholesterol.


The world’s largest candy cane was built by Geneva, Illinois chef Alain Roby in 2012.  It was 51 feet long, required about 900 pounds of sugar, and was eventually smashed up with a hammer so people could take home a piece.


Fifty-four percent of kids suck on candy canes, compared to the 24 percent who just go right for the big crunch. As you may have been able to guess, of those surveyed, boys were nearly twice as likely to be crunchers.


According to the National Confectioners Association, about 1.2 billion candy canes are made annually, and 90 percent of those are sold between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Which honestly begs the question: Who’s buying the 10 percent in the off season?


Bobs (that’s right; no apostrophe) Candies was the first company to really hang its hat on the sweet, striped hook. Lt. Bob McCormack began making candy canes for his kids in the 1920s, and they were such a hit he decided to start mass-producing them. With the help of his brother-in-law, a Catholic priest named Gregory Harding Keller (and his invention, the Keller Machine), McCormack was eventually able to churn out millions of candy canes a day.


December 26 is National Candy Cane Day. Go figure.


Here’s how they make candy canes at Disneyland—it’s a painstaking (and beautiful) technique.

10 Actors Who Hated Their Own Films

1. Sylvester Stallone, Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot. Sly doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to his film career. Despite co-starring with the delightful Estelle Getty as the titular violence-prone mother, Stallone knows just how bad the film was:

"I made some truly awful movies. Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot was the worst. If you ever want someone to confess to murder, just make him or her sit through that film. They will confess to anything after 15 minutes."

2. Alec Guinness, Star Wars.

By the time he played Obi-Wan Kenobi in 1977’s Star Wars: A New Hope, Guinness had already appeared in cinematic classics like The Bridge on the River Kwai, Great Expectations and Lawrence of Arabia. During production, Guinness is reported to have said the following:

"Apart from the money, I regret having embarked on the film. I like them well enough, but it's not an acting job, the dialogue - which is lamentable - keeps being changed and only slightly improved, and I find myself old and out of touch with the young."

The insane amount of fame he won for the role as the wise old Jedi master took him somewhat by surprise and, ultimately, annoyed him. In his autobiography A Positively Final Appearance: A Journal, Guinness recalls a time he encountered an autograph-seeking fan who boasted to him about having watched Star Wars more than 100 times. In response, Guinness agreed to provide the boy an autograph under the condition that he promise never to watch the film again.

3. Bob Hoskins, Super Mario Brothers. He was in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?. As far as I’m concerned, Bob Hoskins is forgiven for Super Mario Bros. Hoskins, though, doesn’t seem to be able to forgive himself. Last year the Guardian spoke with the veteran actor about his career and he summed up his feelings rather succinctly:

What is the worst job you've done?
Super Mario Brothers.

What has been your biggest disappointment?
Super Mario Brothers.

If you could edit your past, what would you change?
I wouldn't do Super Mario Brothers.

4. George Clooney, Batman & Robin. Sure, Batman & Robin made money. But by every other imaginable measure, the film was a complete failure, and a nightmare to the vast majority of the Caped Crusader’s most fervent fanatics. Star George Clooney recognized what a stinker he helped create and once plainly stated, “I think we might have killed the franchise.”

5. David Cross, Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked. When actors have a movie out, it's customary that they publicize the film by saying nice things about it. Earlier this year David Cross took a different approach. When it came to describing his new film Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked, the veteran comedian — better known for Mr. Show and Arrested Development — went on Conan and called the film a “big commercial for Carnival Cruise Lines” and told people not to go see it.

6. Katherine Heigl, Knocked Up. Judd Apatow’s unplanned pregnancy comedy was a huge hit and helped cement her status as a bankable film actress. After the film’s release, however, Heigl didn’t have all good things to say. In fact, what she specifically said about it was that the film was:

"…A little sexist. It paints the women as shrews, as humorless and uptight, and it paints the men as lovable, goofy, fun-loving guys.”

7. Charlize Theron, Reindeer Games. The 2000 action film Reindeer Games starred Ben Affleck, Gary Sinese and Charlize Theron and was directed by John Frankenheimer. But it all somehow failed to come together. In the end the film lost a lot of money and compiled a wealth of negative reviews – including one from its star actress who simply said, “Reindeer Games was not a good movie.”

8. Mark Wahlberg, The Happening. Mark Wahlberg doesn’t exactly seem like a guy who lives his life afraid of trees. But that is the odd position M. Night Shyamalan’s 2008 film The Happening put him in. Wahlberg, as it turns out, doesn’t look back too fondly on the film. He went on record during a press conference for The Fighter when he described a conversation with a fellow actor:

"We had actually had the luxury of having lunch before to talk about another movie and it was a bad movie that I did. She dodged the bullet. And then I was still able to … I don’t want to tell you what movie … alright “The Happening.” F*** it. It is what it is. F***ing trees, man. The plants. F*** it. You can’t blame me for not wanting to try to play a science teacher. At least I wasn’t playing a cop or a crook."

9. John Cusack, Better Off Dead. John Cusack reportedly hated his cult 80s comedy so much that he walked out of the screening and later told the film’s director Steve Holland that Better Off Dead was "the worst thing I have ever seen" and he would "never trust you as a director again."

10 Christopher Plummer, The Sound of Music. The Sound of Music is considered a classic and has delighted many generations of fans. But the film's own lead actor, Christopher Plummer, didn't always sing its praises. Mr. Von Trapp himself declined to participate in a 2005 film reunion and, according to one acquaintance, has referred to the film as The Sound of Mucus.



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