Why daffodils and spring onions should never mix 

As M&S apologises for displaying its daffodils and spring onions side by side, we explain why these icons of spring gardening should be kept apart.

High street favourite Marks & Spencer has just learnt a valuable lesson in why daffodils and spring onions should never mix, after one store made a potentially toxic faux pas in one of its displays.

The brand has since apologised for the honest mistake, but it’s a timely reminder of the dangers of these innocent-looking flowers.

The alarm was first raised by botanist and BBC presenter James Wong, or more precisely, his mum, while shopping at her local M&S store.

Potted daffodil flowers in springCredit: Lasse Johansson/Shutterstock

The two spring staples were positioned next to each other, under the banner ‘Eat Well’, but James was quick to take issue. “Daffodils are the single most common cause of plant-based poisoning as people mistake their bulbs (even cut flower buds) for crops in the onion family,” he claims.  

While we can’t definitively verify James’ assertion that daffodils are the biggest cause of plant-based poisoning, it’s certainly not the first time that the dangers of daffodils have made the news. Back in 2015, Public Health England wrote to supermarkets advising them not to display daffodils near fruit and vegetables. As reported by The Grocer, Professor Paul Cosford, medical director at Public Health England wrote: “Daffodils are dangerous if eaten and poisoning can occur as a result. We are aware of an incident in Bristol a few years ago in which some shoppers, for whom English was not their first language, bought daffodils and cooked the plants believing them to be something else. Several required hospital treatment.”

Daffodils contain a toxic chemical that can cause vomiting and an upset stomach (affecting humans and animals, so be cautious of your pets at home nibbling the flowers, too).   
 
Key symptoms of daffodil poisoning include vomiting, nausea, diarrhoea and acute abdominal pain that can last for several hours. 

Three plants that can be mistaken for toxic daffodils

1. Spring onions

It may seem hard to believe, but many people do confuse daffodils with spring onions on a regular basis. According to the Daily Mail, one husband popped his wife’s daffodils in the fridge, thinking they were onions, with one expert commenting: “As a greengrocer, I can confirm this happens on a very regular basis.”

Similarly, in its 2015 warning, Public Health England pointed out that at least 63 people had suffered from daffodil poisoning in the previous six years. 

2. Edible garlic scapes

Replying to his own Tweet, James demonstrates the striking similarily between pre-bloom daffodils and garlic scapes, which he says are “commonly eaten all over the world. Daffodils are filled with microscopic crystals, so biting into one is like swallowing a box of tiny needles. Proper nasty.”

3. Chinese chives

In 2012 Bristol’s Chinese community was warned not to eat daffodils following a bout of poisoning that hospitalised several people. A Health Protection Agency statement said they may have mistaken the green parts of the flower for a chive used in Chinese cooking. 

Bunch of garlic scapes on worktopCredit: AMV80/Shutterstock
Garlic scapes bear more than a passing resemblance to daffodils – but it can be dangerous to eat the latter

Great companion plants for spring onions

Spring onions have shallow roots so they won’t interfere with the growth of the larger bulbs of onions and garlic, and can squeeze into gaps nicely.

Some growers find that spring onions (like other members of the allium family) can ward off aphids, so you could be helping to keep your tomatoes pest-free. Spring onions can fit nicely in gaps between tomato plants. It’s best to plant your onions first, and harvest them before your tomato leaves create too much shade over them

Spring onions can create a neat border around herbs that tend to grow vertically. However, avoid putting onion in with sprawling herbs like mint, as it’s likely to swamp them. 

Sowing spring onions among your carrots is a win-win – the smell of spring onions deters carrot fly, while the smell of carrots puts off onion fly.

If you are curing your daffodil bulbs in the shed for replanting later in the year, keep them apart from any other bulbs. The RHS advises you store daffodil bulbs in labelled containers and plant them separately to any vegetable plots.

Amy Cutmore

Written by Amy Cutmore she/her

Updated:

Amy Cutmore has been writing about interiors for more than 20 years, harking back to the days when glossy red kitchens, toile de Jouy and rag rugs were all the rage, and everyone wanted a Changing Rooms makeover. You’ll have seen Amy’s work at Britain’s biggest homes titles, including Ideal Home, where she served as Consumer, Technology and Group Digital Editor. She has also edited or written for Homes & Gardens, Livingetc, 25 Beautiful Homes, Real Homes, Gardeningetc, Inside Readers’ Homes, Inspirations for Your Home, Country House & Home, Top Ten Reviews, Trusted Reviews and Country Life.

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