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The perils of poinsettias and other popular plants (Video)

For some of us, winter décor would not be complete without a few poinsettias (Euphorbia spp.). Their large, bold bracts add color and elegance to our homes like no other. From the time they were introduced to the U.S. in the early 1800’s, they have gained steadily in popularity to become quintessential holiday favorites. We like them so much, that millions are sold each year to adorn our shopping centers, offices and homes during the holidays. Even though they are so prevalent, many people mistakenly believe that these perennials are toxic. The truth, according to experts at Colorado State University is that, “commercially available poinsettias are not poisonous to dogs and cats or people.” The only real risk with these plants is that the sap could cause dermatitis in sensitive individuals. Other popular holiday plants are not so agreeable, and some are downright dangerous if ingested. For that reason, those of us with small children and pets need to be aware of any potential problems associated with some of the more popular seasonal plants.

Beautiful red poinsettia
Victoria Gutierrez

Amarylis Hippeastrum spp. – The bulbs are poisonous. Ingestion can cause diarrhea, nausea and vomiting. Ingestion may be fatal. These plants are very toxic to pets.

Christmas cactus Zygocactus truncates – Ingestion may irritate the stomach or intestines, but this plant is not considered toxic.

Cyclamen Cyclamen persicum – The bulbs are poisonous. The plant is only toxic if consumed in large quantities. Ingestion can cause vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramps.

Holly Ilex opaca – The berries are poisonous. Ingestion can cause abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea or vomiting.

Mistletoe Phoradendron leucarpum (P. serotimun) – All parts of the plant are poisonous. Ingestion of berries can cause blurred vision, nausea, abdominal pain, diarrhea and cardiovascular problems. Ingestion can be fatal if large quantities of berries (20 or more) are consumed. For this reason, commercially sold plants will often be sold only after the berries have been replaced with artificial ones.

Pine/Christmas trees Pinus – Needles can pose a choking hazard to small children. The biggest concern with ingestion of the plant by pets is risk of needles puncturing the gastrointestinal lining or causing an obstruction. Stagnant water in Christmas tree stands can be an area of concern. It can grow bacteria or mold that can cause diarrhea, nausea or vomiting if ingested; even a small amount can cause illness.

To ensure that your holidays remain festive, try to keep plants high off the ground, away from small children and pets. Be watchful for signs of poisoning and act immediately if you suspect an accident has occurred. Keep helpful telephone numbers handy; including your physician, your veterinarian, 24-hour veterinary clinic, and poison control center.

According to the Utah Poison Control Center (UPCC), if a plant is ingested, remove any remaining plant material and rinse the mouth with water. Follow this by a call to your doctor, veterinarian or poison control center. If you should need to call, be prepared to give the following information:

  • What plant material was ingested
  • How much was ingested
  • How long ago was it ingested
  • What are the symptoms

1-(800) 222-1222

You can call UPCC 24 hours a day. The center is staffed with physicians, pharmacists and nurses who have all been trained in clinical toxicology.

You don’t have to forego live plants altogether now that you are informed and aware of their potential hazards. Choose living, and all holiday decorations with care. The extra measures you take to keep your pets and loved ones safe are well worth the effort. And remember – poinsettias aren’t so perilous after all.


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North Carolina State University

California Poison Control

American Kennel Club (AKC)


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