University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Winter Holiday News Article

HAZARDOUS HOLIDAY PLANTS

Contact: Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
 
 

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 Ohio State University 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.

How safe are other holiday plants? Here's the rundown on plants with toxic properties.

HOLLY: Eating the bright, red berries of this plant will cause nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea.

JEQUIRITY BEAN (Indian prayer bean): This black-tipped, scarlet bean is used in many dry arrangements. The seed is poisonous if eaten and can cause death.

JERUSALEM CHERRY: Every part of this plant contains toxic substances. Eating the fruit or foliage will adversely affect the heart.

MISTLETOE: Acute stomach and intestinal disorders result from nibbling on the greenish, white berries.

YEW: The leaves, seeds, bark, and twigs of this evergreen can be toxic, causing breathing difficulties, uncontrollable trembling, and vomiting.

Babies, in particular, seem fascinated by the bright berries and shiny or colorful leaves found on many holiday plants and are often tempted to take a bite. Although few plants cause death, you should contact your local poison control center or poison control unit of your local hospital (in Vermont 802-847-3456)  if you suspect your child has eaten any leaves, berries, or flowers of a plant.


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