Some plants seem so innocent, yet are bound to the deepest complexities of the human condition. The bright cheerful blooms of daffodil, jonquil and paperwhites — all forms of the spring-flowering bulb narcissus — are for many a sign that winter has passed and all the good things of the growing season are on their way. For the handsome young man in ancient Greece whose name was given to the flower, however, the blooming of narcissus was an event that marked his demise.
Narcissus was a very vain person, enamored with his own beauty. So enamored was he that upon seeing his reflection in a small pool of water, he was unable to leave the sight of his own face. His fixation cost him his life, but gave the world a beautiful flower, as well as a myth to remind us of the dangers of self-absorption.
A little known fact that relates to the darker side of these dainty flowers is the potent toxicity of the plant. The narcissi all contain poisonous alkaloids that can cause nausea, convulsions and even death, depending on the quantity consumed. So, though they are enjoyable to look at and smell, they must be respected and it's best to avoid planting them in a vegetable garden where they could be confused with edible bulbs that have similar strap-like leaves, such as leeks, onions and garlic.