Holiday decorations often include flowers and shrubs. Unfortunately, while these items are pretty, some popular holiday plants can be poisonous or toxic, especially to children and pets. Here’s a look at some of the most common poisonous holiday plants and also some surprising information about one that’s not so bad after all…
1. Poinsettia – Contrary to popular belief, this plant is not really toxic.
The beautiful poinsettia (which originated in Mexico) is not something you want on a salad, but this Euphorbia is not particularly dangerous. If you eat a few leaves, you may feel ill or vomit. Rubbing the sap from the plant into your skin can give you an itchy rash. Beyond that, this plant is unlikely to cause a problem for either humans or pets. The poinsettia, everyone’s favorite holiday plant, has gotten a bum rap for a number of years. It’s been falsely accused of being poisonous, yet no deaths from this plant have ever been recorded. In fact, research studies at The Ohio State University (my alma mater) have proven that poinsettias present no health hazard. The rumors arise from a highly questionable report of a single fatality in Hawaii more than 75 years ago, a child who reportedly died after eating one leaf. However, that doesn’t mean the poinsettia doesn’t have toxic properties. If ingested, it can irritate the mouth and stomach, sometimes resulting in diarrhea or vomiting. The sap may cause a poison ivy-like blistering on contact with the skin unless washed off immediately. That’s why it’s important to place poinsettias, and other holiday plants, out of the reach of children and curious pets.
2. Mistletoe – Poisonous
Mistletoe is a name given to one of several plants, all potentially dangerous for kids and pets. Phoradendron species contain a toxin called phoratoxin, which can cause blurred vision, nausea, abdominal pain, diarrhea, blood pressure changes, and even death. The Viscum species of mistletoe contain a slightly different cocktail of chemicals, including the poisonous alkaloid tyramine, which produce similar symptoms. All parts of the mistletoe plant are poisonous, though it is the berries that may be most attractive to kids. Eating 1-2 berries probably will not cause a problem for a child, but a small pet could be endangered by eating a few leaves or berries. If your child or pet eats mistletoe, it’s a good idea to seek medical advice. If you are going to hang live mistletoe, it is a good idea to use a mesh bag so if any leaves or berries fall off they are caught and do not fall to the ground where it could be ingested by a child or pet.
3. Holly – Poisonous
A child can eat 1-2 holly berries (Ilex) without harm, but around 20 berries can cause death, so eating holly berries is a serious concern for children and pets. Though the berries are the part that is most commonly eaten, the bark, leaves, and seeds are toxic. What is the poison? Interestingly enough, it is theobromine, an alkaloid that is related to caffeine. Theobromine is found in chocolate (and is toxic to dogs even at the lower concentration), but there is much more of the compound in holly berries.
4. Amaryllis and Daffodils – Poisonous
An amaryllis bulb is a common holiday gift. Amaryllis, daffodil, and narcissus bulbs may be forced indoors to produce showy holiday flowers. Eating the bulbs (and leaves, though they are less toxic) can cause abdominal pain, cardiac arrhythmias, and convulsions. The plants are more likely to be eaten by pets than children, but the alkaloid poison lycorine is considered toxic to humans, too.
5. Cyclamen – Poisonous for Pets
Cyclamen (Primulaceae) is a flowering plant commonly seen around the winter holidays. Cyclamen tubers contain triterpinoidsaponins, which can cause nausea, vomiting, convulsions, and paralysis. This plant is more of a concern for pets than humans. In fact, some cyclamen cultivars are favored for their delicate flavor and use in tea.
6. Christmas Trees – Not a Major Concern
Cedars, pines, and firs are very mildly toxic. The biggest concern here is the possibility of puncturing part of the gastrointestinal tract from eating needles, though the tree oils may cause irritation of the mouth and skin. Toxicity might be affected by whether the tree had been sprayed with a flame retardant. People don’t usually eat Christmas trees. Even a dog is unlikely to eat enough of the tree to cause a problem. In addition, your Christmas tree is a big fire hazard, so be sure to water it frequently.
7. Jerusalem Cherry – Poisonous
The Jerusalem cherry (Solanum pseudocapsicum) is a species of nightshade that bears poisonous fruit. The primary poison is the alkaloid solanocapsine, which can cause gastric upset and vomiting in people, but generally is not life-threatening. However, the fruits are extremely toxic to dogs and cats and some birds. The fruit resembles a cherry tomato, both in appearance and flavor, so kids and pets may eat enough to cause illness, or in the case of pets, even death.
8. Rosary Pea or Jequirity Bean abrus precatorius (Indian prayer bean) These berries are very dangerous
They can be swallowed whole, but can be life-threatening if they are chewed prior to swallowing. Vomiting and abdominal pain occurs within a few hours after swallowing, followed by bloody diarrhea. This black-tipped, scarlet bean is used in many dry arrangements.
9. Yew: The leaves, seeds, bark, and twigs of this evergreen can be toxic, causing breathing difficulties, uncontrollable trembling, and vomiting.