Marks & Spencer has apologised after displaying daffodils - known for having poisonous stems - alongside spring onions in one of its stores. The daffodils, which can be poisonous if eaten, were displayed under a "seasonal favourites" banner in the fruit and veg aisle.
Botanist and BBC Radio 4 presenter James Wong called out the retailer on Twitter to draw attention to the display and warn his followers that consuming them is like “swallowing a box of tiny needles".
He wrote: “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.
“@marksandspencer I don’t want to get any staff in trouble. But you need better training asap. Daffodils are filled with microscopic crystals, so biting into one is like swallowing a box of tiny needles. Properly nasty.”
Wong said this type of poisoning is ‘very common and excruciating’ and often affects children, elderly people and immigrants.
M&S has apologised and said it was a "genuine error in one of our stores". An M&S spokesperson said: “Customer safety is our priority and our British daffodils are clearly labelled with an on-pack warning that they are not safe to consume. This was a genuine error in one of our stores and as a precaution, we are reminding all stores to make sure the flowers are displayed properly. We apologise for any confusion caused.”
Daffodil stems, which are widely sold in supermarkets during springtime, can bear a resemblance to some vegetables such as garlic or spring onions at first glance. Public Health England wrote to retailers in 2015 warning about the ‘potentially nasty consequences’ if there was a mix-up with how they are labelled.
It said they contain toxic alkaloids which can cause severe vomiting, noting 27 poisoning cases in the previous year. Health officials believe daffodil poisoning led to 10 hospitalisations in Bristol in 2012 because of their similarity to a chive used in Chinese cooking.
Mr Wong said the error was originally spotted by his mum, who took a picture of the display. He then urged M&S to train staff better.