Are Poinsettias A Poisonous Bunch? The Story And Science Behind That Holiday Myth


Christmas would not be complete without the lovely red and green foliage brought by poinsettias but some people might be okay with that if that means that their family members and pets would be safe from its toxins. But are these lovely plants really poisonous?

According to the Associated Press (as cited by Yahoo), people started dubbing the popular Christmas plant as poisonous after a “single and unconfirmed death” in 1919. Citing a research review from the Western Journal of Emergency Medicine, the outlet explained that its reputation was marred from speculations that stemmed from “a single unconfirmed death of a 2-year-old in Hawaii” almost a century ago.

Based on the article, experts have clarified that poinsettias’ toxic content has been highly exaggerated and, therefore, misunderstood by many.

Speaking to AP, Indiana University pediatrician Dr. Rachel Vreeman attested that while poinsettias contain irritants that can cause symptoms to appear, it is far from being deadly.

“In none of those cases were there deaths or serious injury. In fact, more than 95 percent of them required zero medical care.”

In an article about the Christmas plant published by Medicine Net, poinsettias have been mistaken to be poisonous because it belongs to the genus Euphorbia, a plant family that contains highly toxic flora. However, the species itself is far from deadly.

Citing the POISINDEX information, the medical website explained that a 50-pound child would need to ingest more than 500 poinsettia leaves to reach a toxic dose from the poinsettia.

Statistics from the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh Poison Center also revealed that out of 22,793 patients exposed to poinsettia, 96 percent did not need to be treated in a medical facility. On top of that, 92 percent did not show any symptoms, including nausea and vomiting, at all.

Of course, it wouldn’t hurt to take extra precautions since poinsettias—as well as many other household plants—can cause problems when ingested by either humans or animals.

Pet Poison Helpline classified the festive Christmas plant to have a mild toxicity level that can cause drooling, lip-licking, vomiting, and diarrhea among the furry members of the family.

Poinsettias are classified to have a mild toxicity level for pets
Poinsettias are far from deadly for our furry family members.Featured image credit: JasonOndreickaiStock

Exposure to the plant’s milky sap that contains diterpenoid euphorbol esters and saponin-like detergents can also cause dermal irritation and even mild conjunctivitis or “pink eye.”

But while there is no antidote for poinsettia poisoning, the website noted that medical attention is rarely needed for pets who ingest leaves of the festive plant.