Poinsettias: Is This Popular Holiday Plant Really Poisonous?

The poinsettia, characterized by its very showy red leaves and green foliage, is commonly found in flower shops and department stores throughout the holiday season. This popular plant belongs to the Euphorbiaceae family, is native to Central America and Mexico, and is used with Christmas celebrations in North America as a decorative houseplant. One of the most common questions surrounding the poinsettia is whether or not it is poisonous to children or house pets as the majority of the population (about 70%) believe that they are. As a matter of fact, they have a mild toxicity to them but they are not considered poisonous. Here is the rumor that started this ingrained belief and what you do need to know about its toxicity levels.

The Rumor Behind The Poisonous Belief

The first rumor began back in 1919 when a two-year-old child was found dead near a poinsettia bush in Hawaii. At the time the poinsettia was a popular garden plant, and therefore, it was automatically assumed that the plant had killed the boy through the consumption of its leaves. Unfortunately, no toxicology or autopsy report was done, so many began to believe that poinsettias were poisonous on assumption. Later on, the poinsettia was listed in Poisonous Plants of Hawaii, which was an encyclopedic book that listed off poisonous plants within the region. Almost one hundred years after the rumor had circulated and gone viral, it was found that the plant wasn’t poisonous at all.

What Level of Toxicity to Poinsettias Hold for Humans and Pets?

If consumed in large quantities, a poinsettia can induce vomiting, skin irritation, nausea, and sometimes diarrhea. With both humans and animals, the milky white sap is what will cause the reaction, however, rarely will medical treatment be required for poinsettia toxicity. The danger of these plants is quite minimal, with a child weighing fifty pounds needing to eat over five hundred leaves to reach a toxic dose.

If one of your pets consumes the leaves and you see drooling, vomiting, licking of the lips, diarrhea, eye irritation, or skin irritation like swelling, redness, or itchiness, you may choose to take your pet to a vet/emergency veterinarian clinic as the toxicity level is generally mild for dogs and cats.

Are There Other Plants to Watch Out for During the Holiday Season?

If you are planning on bringing holiday plants into your home, make sure that you keep any bouquets or displays that contain holly, mistletoe, rosemary, or lilies away from your pets. Lilies can cause acute kidney failure just from one or two bites and the pollen is extremely toxic and holly will result in a severe gastrointestinal upset.

How to Care For Your Poinsettia and How to Get It To Re-Bloom

Poinsettias generally come in a wide variety of colors and with proper care, can be grown year after year. The colorful bracts that you see on poinsettias are a special type of leaf which is meant to change color throughout the season. The purpose of these is to attract insects, so if you do not want insects in your garden, remove these. During the blooming stage, poinsettias need to be kept warm with a lightly moist soil and plenty of sunlight. If you want your poinsettia to re-bloom, it will need to follow its natural daylight cycle, which means that it needs to be brought into a totally dark area when the sun goes down.

In Summary: They Have a Mild Toxicity To Them

Despite popular belief, poinsettias are not classified as poisonous and will not do you any harm if you accidentally ingest some of the sap or leaves. They are mildly toxic, so you may receive some slight reactions to the plant, but all in all, you will not need medical attention if this occurs. If your pets, on the other hand, do consume some of the sap or leaves, the plant is mildly toxic to them and should be carefully monitored. Most animals, however, won’t even bother the plant, chew on it, or try to eat it.