Preventing poisoning from holiday plants


December 21, 2015

From poinsettias to Christmas cactus, here’s the scoop on hazards of holiday foliage.

Along with the hustle and bustle of the season come displays of seasonal foliage. Stories and myths abound about the risks of holiday poisoning from plants. Keeping them out of reach can keep children and pets safe. But how toxic are they if eaten?

Donna Seger, M.D., medical director of the Tennessee Poison Center, offers this summary of some of the dangers of holiday plants:

  • Poinsettia, contrary to popular perceptions, is not poisonous. Eating a small amount rarely causes symptoms. But eating large amounts may cause stomach or intestinal upset or symptoms like nausea and vomiting.
  • Christmas trees may cause skin irritation. If a child or pet swallows needles or branches, it may injure the digestive system.
  • Mistletoe comes in several varieties. Some can be toxic to the heart or nervous system. The most common variety in the United States, Phoradendron, can cause nausea and vomiting. A simple solution: wrap fresh mistletoe in fine netting to prevent droppings from falling to the ground and being swallowed.
  • American holly may cause minor stomach or intestinal upset in small amounts. Swallowing large amounts may cause mild drowsiness.
  • Ivy contains calcium oxalate crystals. These crystals cause severe mouth irritation when bitten — so much so that eating even small amounts is difficult or unlikely.
  • Christmas roses contain cardiac glycosides. These can cause rapid heartbeat when eaten. Some forms can also cause delirium and seizures.
  • Christmas cactus, a tropical cactus with no spines, is not poisonous and produces no symptoms if eaten.

Learn how to keep your family safe from all sorts of holiday hazards, inside and outside the home.

In case of emergency, call the Tennessee poison helpline at 800-222-1222.