Are Poinsettias poisonous? Here’s the truth about the red Christmas plant

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(Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Could the Poinsettia plant kill you or your pet?

Poison Control says that while eating the plant could irritate your insides, it’s unlikely to be fatal — for humans or animals. In the event that the plant is ingested, a mouth rash could develop or your stomach could be upset, but you’re unlikely to die.

So why do so many believe this myth?

According to Poison Control, the story dates back over 100 years ago, when a child was found next to a wild Poinsettia plant and died. While this hasn’t happened since, PC says, the belief continued.

In research, it was discovered that even after ingesting an experimental dose of Poinsettia leaves — 1.25 pounds, or 500-600 leaves — the result was still not fatal.

Clinical Toxicologist Rose Ann Gould Soloway and Certified Specialist Serkalem Mekonnen write:

“In most cases, exposure to any parts of the poinsettia plant in children or pets has very little if any effect. If swallowed, it may cause mild irritation: nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea. Touching it may cause a rash. There have been reports of gardeners who work with the plant frequently developing a rash from handling the plant.”

Last year, Good Housekeeping put together a list of holiday plants that are more toxic than Poinsettias, including:

  • Mistletoe — one bite of this kiss-inducing plant can send your dog or cat into a vomiting fit that may require veterinarian assistance.
  • Holly — Holly’s not so jolly if eaten by pets. According to Dr. Tina Wismer, Medical Director of the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center. Wismer says holly can harm two different ways: 1) causing physical irritation due to being pointy and 2) by causing severe stomach irritation due to its soap-like compounds called saponins. These two things can lead to blood in vomit.
  • Christmas trees — pine, fir and spruce all contain trace amounts of essential oils that can irritate pet stomachs. Additionally, pine needles (both real and fake) can form a wad in the dog or cat’s GI tract and cause obstruction.

History of Poinsettias

Poinsettias get their name from Joel Roberts Poinsett, who introduced the plant in the U.S. from Mexico in 1828, according to the University of Illinois Extension. A botanist and physician, Poinsett was also the first U.S. Ambassador to Mexico.

While there, he sent back samples of the plant to his home in Charleston, South Carolina.

The ancient Aztecs called poinsettias “cuitlaxochitl,” which means “flower that grows in residues or soil.” The plant is now known in Mexico and Guatamala as “La Flor de la Nochebuena,” or “flower of the Holy Night, or Christmas Eve.” While generally considered a Christmastime staple, in Spain, the flower is associated with Easter.

Dec. 12 is recognized as Poinsettia Day, marking the 1851 death of Poinsett. The flower’s name is usually capitalized because it’s named after a person.

How do you pronounce it?

There’s recently been much debate in the KXAN offices over how “Poinsettia” should be pronounced. The disagreement is between those who believe it should be pronounced “Poin-setta” and those who say it should be pronounced “Poin-sett-IA.”

How do you pronounce it?

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