Poisonous Christmas Plants
By: Brent and Becky
With the Christmas season finally in full swing, we find our homes filled to the brim with shades of green, red, and white, and the plants that we nurture at home are no exception. We’re excitedly bringing home all the holidays hues home to enjoy, from fresh Christmas trees full of that seasonal aroma to brightly colored blooms in our poinsettias and Christmas cacti. Before you bring home all your holiday favorites to enjoy from the comfort of your cozy home, though, there are some important facts about the risks that come with some of these Christmas plants.
Poisonous Christmas Plants - Myths and Facts
Just like our other plants, our living holiday favorites are full of chemicals that help them to survive. While some plants have chemicals that have reputations for health and healing, others have chemicals that are irritants or downright toxic. Being aware of what risks come with different plants can help you make an educated decision about what to bring home - and how to keep everyone in your family comfortable and safe all holiday season. Here’s how safe some of the most popular holiday plants are in your home:
Poinsettias - Irritant, Not Poisonous
Despite popular belief, poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima) are actually not poisonous. Their false reputation for being toxic comes from a tragic story all the way back in 1919 when a young girl’s death was incorrectly blamed on a poinsettia.
Poinsettia sap, like many other plants in the Euphorbia family, certainly is an irritant, so getting it on your skin or in the mouth can cause discomfort or even pain. If eaten, it could also irritate the stomach enough to cause vomiting, too, but for even a small child to actually be poisoned, they’d have to eat a nearly impossible 500 leaves.
If you catch your family pet nibbling on leaves, you don’t have to worry too much for their safety. Of course, if they begin to vomit, it might be a good idea to call a vet, but you can be more confident that a small dose won’t do too much harm. As a relatively safe plant, you can display your poinsettia proudly and make the most of it’s incredibly gorgeous and festive colors without stressing over safety.
Holly and Mistletoe Berries - Highly Poisonous
While many of us have been incorrectly worried about poinsettias for years, much more dangerous plants have gone relatively unnoticed. The first is Mistletoe which has two versions: The American Mistletoe (Phoradendron serotinum) and the European Mistletoe (Viscum album). The American Mistletoe berries are your safe bet as rarely does ingestion of the berries result in symptoms beyond a belly ache. But it’s cousin, the European Mistletoe, is indeed a nasty plant to ingest. Eating even a few of the berries can cause vomiting, diarrhea, or death. European Mistletoe is not native order sold in the United States, but it could be imported somehow, so always check.
Holly berries (Ilex genus) are classic holiday berries that not only look amazing, but have such fame from Christmas songs that it’s hard to resist bringing them home. The berries on these plants are actually toxic, though! Swallowing holly berries can cause vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, and drowsiness. Reports show that children have had symptoms after swallowing as few as two holly berries.
If you bring these nostalgic favorites home as decorations, consider snipping the berries off as they appear for safety. While you might be sacrificing that perfect red and green contrast for the ultimate Christmas appeal, for homes that have curious mouths, like children and pets, it is a good choice to be proactive.
Christmas Cactus - Irritant, Not Poisonous
The Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera genus) is another holiday favorite that delights us with surprise blooms in the darkest days of winter. They’re a favorite gift this time of year, so it’s good to know that if you are surprised with the gift of a Christmas cactus, they’re safe to have at home around pets and children. If a good chunk of your plant is accidentally ingested, it could irritate the stomach to cause vomiting and diarrhea, but you won’t have to worry about toxicity. This relative of the cactus family isn’t even a true cactus, and you can enjoy it safely without the complications of needles and spines in your home either.
Fresh Trees - Other Hazards
Christmas trees are one of our favorite parts of the holiday season. With a real tree in your home, every room is infused with the crisp scent of the holidays. There’s something about live trees that set them apart from the reusable fake trees, but they aren’t without risks.
Your Christmas tree isn’t poisonous but might cause harm to curious pets that eat the brittle fallen needles. The dried out needles that inevitably drop from an authentic tree are long and sharp enough to cause damage - like eating a pin - so you should take care to clean them up as they fall. This is a very rare risk, but keeping your tree tidy is an easy way to prevent worry over it.
The holidays are meant to be full of happiness and joy, so they should never be overshadowed with doubt and stress. A little bit of knowledge is all you need to make sure that you can make educated choices about the safety of your family, taking away concerns over poisonous plants so that you can make the most out of enjoying your home and family this Christmas season.
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