Over the past few weeks in this column, we’ve taken a look at different holiday plants that play an integral part in the holiday decorations and traditions of many families in Greater Columbus. While these plants provide festive color and a unique scent and add to the joy of the holiday season, they can also be dangerous to young children and pets.

Holiday plants are often placed in locations around the house without thinking about the potential toxicity of these plants, or the possibility of young children and curious pets getting access to the plants. Let’s take a look at the potential toxicity of some of our favorite holiday plants.

∙ Amaryllis, paperwhite, daffodil: These forced flower holiday bulbs make a beautiful addition to any holiday decor and are popular gifts for plant lovers, but they are highly toxic to both pets and humans. Eating any parts of these plants can cause abdominal pain, cramps, and irregular heartbeat. The good news is that the leaves of these plants are much less toxic than the actual bulbs.

∙ Poinsettia: Now available in an array of different colors, shades and leaf characteristics, this quintessential holiday plant is probably the most misunderstood holiday plant when it comes to potential toxicity. While eating the leaves or stems of poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) can cause digestive discomfort, it will not cause severe illness or death – contrary to what your grandmother may have told you! Research conducted at Ohio State University revealed that a 50-pound child would have to eat more than 500 poinsettia leaves to experience any adverse effects, and thus no severe poisonings have been reported.

∙ Mistletoe: While hanging live mistletoe (Phoradendron flavescens) may bring an extra peck on the cheek this holiday season, it should be avoided in homes with pets, as it is highly toxic. Ingesting a small amount of live mistletoe can cause gastrointestinal upset, seizures, and even death when pets ingest large amounts. Pet lovers should choose plastic or silk versions of this plant as a backdrop for their holiday hugs.

∙ Cyclamen: Only in recent years has cyclamen (Cyclamen persicum) become popular as a winter holiday plant and is available with flowers in many shades of red and pink as well as white. This plant contains dangerous saponins that can cause intestinal symptoms when ingested. The tuber or root of cyclamen is the most toxic part of the plant.

∙ Holy berries: Sprigs of bright holly foliage with festive red berries are a popular and nostalgic decoration, but the berries are highly toxic when ingested by humans or pets, causing vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration and drowsiness, even if just one or two of the berries are swallowed. Holly leaves (Ilex opaca) can also cause discomfort if swallowed due to their sharp edges. Once holly berries dry out, they fall from the branches, sometimes making them accessible to curious pets and children. Extreme caution should be taken when displaying live branches with berries when there are pets or children in the home.

∙ Christmas cactus: Indoor Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii) provides a pop of vibrant color for the holidays and beyond, but is known to cause ataxia (uncoordinated abnormal movements) and mild stomach upset when ingested by cats.

∙ Live Christmas trees: Most conifer tree species used as Christmas trees including pine, spruce, and spruce are not toxic to children or pets, but the sharp needles of these plants can cause irritation and injury to the mouth or throat if ingested.

With careful plant selection and strategic placement in the home, plant lovers with pets or young children can enjoy the colors, textures and scents of these holiday plants.

If you suspect children have ingested toxic plants, call the Central Ohio Poison Center at Nationwide Children’s Hospital at 800-222-1222. Pet owners who suspect their pet has become ill from eating toxic plants should contact their veterinarian or the 24-hour pet poisoning hotline maintained by the ASPCA at 888-426-4435.

Mike Hogan is an Extension, Agriculture and Natural Resources teacher and associate professor at Ohio State University Extension.


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