Despite their reputation, poinsettias are not considered poisonous – no deaths have been confirmed from ingestion of this plant.
Euphorbia pulcherrima, also known as "Christmas flower", is anything but edible. Just because it's not fatal doesn't mean it's safe to eat.
The juice contains small amounts of toxic substances which, if ingested, can cause some unpleasant gastrointestinal side effects, and is even more important for those with sensitivities and allergies, especially those with latex allergies.
The reputation of this holiday plant as highly toxic is a myth, but one that has become firmly established and does not seem to be loosening its grip.
So that you can reevaluate your concerns about the safety of this festive plant, I will return you to the origins of this myth, clear up some confusion about the safety of the poinsettia as a houseplant, and let you know the circumstances under which you should be concerned.
I will cover the following:
The myth of poinsettia toxicity
If this houseplant is not poisonous when on vacation, where does its bad reputation come from?
The source of this floral myth is over a hundred years old. In 1919, a child in Hawaii reportedly died after eating or perhaps just chewing on a single poinsettia leaf.
This anecdote was cited as a fact by author Harry L. Arnold, MD, in his 1944 book Poisonous Plants of Hawaii.
“The milky juice and the leaves are poisonous. The two-year-old child of an army officer in Fort Shafter died of a poinsettia in 1919. "
Arnold went on to explain that those who ingested this plant went insane before death.
Ouch! Scary stuff! No wonder people took it seriously.
As I'll explain in detail later in this article, later scientific research has erased E. pulcherrima's bad reputation.
Because poinsettia juice is very similar to latex, a common allergen, some medical professionals have speculated that the child in question died of an allergic reaction to compounds in the juice.
James Boodley, professor of floriculture at the Cornell University inquired about the original story when he was a visiting professor in Hawaii in 1972.
In the course of his research, he learned that there was in fact no connection between the poinsettia and the death of this child.
The story that laid the foundation for the description of E. pulcherrima as highly toxic turned out to be completely unfounded.
However, the rumor that a child in Hawaii would die of a poinsettia leaf had a huge impact on the population's imagination.
This winter flowering plant has been treated as if it was highly toxic for many decades.
And a century after the origin of this myth, many people still believe it is, despite researchers having tested it for toxicity and debunking the myth since the 1970s.
Toxicity to humans
In 1971, researchers at Ohio State University conducted an experiment to test the toxicity of this plant. Preparations from different parts of the plant were mixed and fed in high concentrations to a group of 55 laboratory rats.
None of the rats died after taking this high dose. In fact, they didn't show any reaction at all – they didn't even show one Changes in their behavior.
The researchers who conducted this experiment concluded that a hypothetical 50 pound child would have to eat at least 500 leaves to ingest a potentially toxic dose.
I don't know about you, but I've never met a kid willing to eat 500 leaves in one sitting, let alone leaves of something that tastes as bad as poinsettia. It reportedly has a taste that is not only extremely bitter, but "indescribably horrible. ”
Don't include this holiday plant on your list edible flowers!
If this single research experiment isn't convincing enough for you, don't worry, there is more evidence that the Christmas flower is not poisonous.
In an article published in the Times Herald record in 2016Dona M. Crawford, community horticulture educator at Cornell Cooperative Extension in Ulster County, explains that out of 92 poison control calls in which children ate not only nibbles but “significant” amounts of E. pulcherrima, “none of these cases actually resulted to easily harmful effects. "
And poison control, officially known as the National Capital Poison Center, puts this down as their bottom line on the safety of poinsettias: They can be irritating though do not cause death.
Now that we know that there is no verified evidence that anyone dies on this holiday, let's look at some of the unpleasant – and for some worrying – effects this can have on our health.
Poinsettias are not poisonous, but neither are they completely harmless. When ingested, they can – but not always – cause abdominal pain or other gastrointestinal problems.
Do you remember the hypothetical 50 pound child mentioned above?
If this kid (who apparently has a strong taste for bitter flavors) tried to break the world record for eating E. pulcherrima leaves, they probably wouldn't get very far.
Five leaves are often enough to cause nauseaand possibly vomiting or diarrhea, which would effectively end this kid's Christmas flower burst.
While ingesting large amounts of poinsettia isn't fatal, it doesn't mean it's completely harmless.
For a concerned parent, it may be comforting to remind yourself that children are very unlikely to eat large amounts of any part of this festive plant – as pretty as it is, it just doesn't taste very good.
However, if your child experiences any of the above symptoms, contact your doctor or other health professional immediately.
Poinsettia can not only cause gastrointestinal discomfort, but also cause allergic effects in some people.
Like other members of the euphorbia family (especially the rubber tree), Christmas flowers contain a milky sap that shares several proteins with the latex used to make rubber.
This milky juice contains diterpenoid euphorbol ester and saponin-like compounds, which can be irritating and cause skin rashes.
While this juice isn't exactly the same as the latex that rubber gloves are made from, it's similar enough to cause problems in some people – 40 percent of people allergic to latex can also react to E. pulcherrima.
Euphorbia sap. Photo by Fritz Geller-Grimm, Wikimedia Commons, via CC BY-SA 3.0.
But it is not just contact with the milky juice that can cause problems.
The proximity to the plant itself can Cause wheezing, Rhinitis, asthmaand other symptoms in people with a latex allergy.
To the those with allergiesThere is a risk of severe reaction to poinsettia plants and a doctor should be sought immediately.
And not only people with latex allergies find the Christmas flower harmful to health.
Individuals with allergic rhinitis It has also been found that certain food sensitivities pose a risk for developing allergies to poinsettias and other ornamentals.
If your household has people with known latex allergies or other allergies or sensitivities, it may be wise to keep your home free of live poinsettia plants.
A word of warning: even people without existing allergies can cause skin irritation when handling these plants.
If you Keep your poinsettia as a houseplant Wear gloves after the holidays to protect your skin from the potentially irritating juice.
Also, keep in mind that many other houseplants carry the same risk of allergic reactions.
For example, weeping figs, yucca and (male) palm trees are among the houseplants that can also cause reactions in these cases prone to allergies.
If allergies are a concern, you should choose non-toxic houseplants that are better suited for allergy-free living, such as: B. Gerbera daisies or Swedish ivy.
Toxicity to pets
If you haven't skipped over to this section, you now know that while poinsettia is not classified as poisonous, when ingested it can cause gastrointestinal discomfort and may cause allergic reactions in some people.
The same applies to both pets and humans.
The ASPCA's database for toxic and non-toxic plantsE. pulcherrima, a valuable resource for pet owners, lists E. pulcherrima as toxic to dogs and cats. It is said, however, that the poinsettia "irritates the mouth and stomach and sometimes causes vomiting, but is generally overrated in terms of toxicity".
When cats or dogs nibble on this holiday plant, they may drool or show signs of nausea and discomfort.
The American Veterinary Medical Association warns that there are much more dangerous plants than poinsettia during the holidays, and specifically points out the risks of decor made from live holly or mistletoe, both of which are highly toxic to cats and dogs – and to humans.
Hatchlings like puppies and kittens are more susceptible to the nasty effects of the Christmas flower, and their natural curiosity can cause them to nibble.
If you have pets who think houseplants are on their personal tasting menu, keep poinsettias out of the home to avoid concerns or just keep them out of reach.
If you have a particularly curious pet, you can place your Christmas flower on an inaccessible shelf or repot it in a hanging basket.
If your pet shows signs of stress or illness, contact a veterinarian right away.
Flora That is both friend and foe
Let's look at the main safety points of the Christmas flower:
Poinsettias can be slightly toxic if ingested and pose health concerns for both humans and pets: they can cause upset bellies, in some cases allergic reactions, and the milky sap from broken leaves or stems can cause skin irritation.
If you are at high risk of allergies, think twice about bringing this festive plant into your home. To be on the safe side, keep them out of the reach of young children and pets.
And don't forget to be very vigilant when it comes to the really toxic home decor like mistletoe and holly.
Have you ever had to call poison control to worry about this holiday plant in an emergency? Let us know in the comments and share your valuable experience with our readers.
Read our guide if you want to learn more about it how to grow poinsettia.
And if you are interested in non-toxic ones Houseplants Next, to brighten up your home, you need the following guides:
Gardener & # 39; s Path staff members are not medical professionals, and this article should not be construed as medical advice intended for the evaluation, diagnosis, prescription, or promise of a cure. Gardener & # 39; s Path and Ask the Experts, LLC are not responsible for any use or misuse of the material presented above. Always contact a doctor if you have any concerns about the health of your children or pets.
About Kristina Hicks-Hamblin
Kristina Hicks-Hamblin lives on an arid land in the Utah desert. Originally from the temperate suburbs of North Carolina, she enjoys discovering ways to meet a climatic challenge. She is a certified permaculture designer and environmental consultant in building biology and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Kristina loves the challenges of dry horticulture and teaches other climate-compatible gardening techniques, and she strives to create gardens that are as many birds and bees as there are edible ones. Kristina prides itself on the fact that every year she spends more money on seeds than on clothes.