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Good Cheer - Poinsettia is not Poisonous

By Vincent Lazaneo

poinsettia

The Poinsettia, Euphorbia pulcherrima, is not a highly-toxic or poisonous plant.  You will not die if you eat one of the plant’s colorful leaves (bracts), but adding them to a salad is not advisable. The pamphlet, “Know Your Plants – Safe or Poisonous?,” published by the University of California lists the Poinsettia having “minor toxicity” and causing dermatitis.  Eating a large quantity of the plant could give someone an upset stomach, but it would not prove fatal. The plant’s milky sap can irritate mucous membranes in the mouth, nose and eyes. If some sap gets in a person’s eye, the California Poison Control System advises irrigating the eye with a gentle stream of room-temperature water for 5-10 minutes to remove the contaminant.

Since 1919, stories unsubstantiated by medical and scientific fact have circulated about the Poinsettia at Christmas time, when the plant is at the peak of its popularity.  According to an old tale, the two-year old child of an Army officer stationed in Hawaii dies from eating a Poinsettia leaf.  This unfortunate, unfounded story helped scare people into thinking that the Poinsettia is poisonous.  It has led to the belief that parts of the plant, if ingested by humans or pets, could be lethal.

The myth still persists that Poinsettia plants are toxic. However, extensive testing has shown that eating Poinsettia causes, at worst, only minor physical discomfort.
Scientists at Ohio State University tested Poinsettia toxicity in rats (a standard model of toxicity testing). The rats were fed large amounts of various parts of the Poinsettia plant. None of the rats showed any signs of illness--no changes in behavior, appetite, body weight gain, etc.

Poison control centers keep records of suspected poisoning cases in humans. A review of those records found few cases of illness in children or adults who had eaten Poinsettia, with the worst symptoms being mild nausea and vomiting.

People like to err on the side of safety, which is good. It is a wise idea to keep all houseplants away from children and pets. However, there is no reason to fear the Poinsettia.

For a list of safe and poisonous plants, visit http://groups.ucanr.org/cagardenweb/Poisonous_Plants


Vincent Lazaneo is Urban Horticulture Advisor for UC Cooperative Extension.  He helped found the San Diego County Master Gardener Association more than two decades ago and serves as its advisor. He is the author of numerous articles on plants and pests that appeared in the San Diego Union-Tribune, California Garden and other publications.

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