Every year we hear warnings about how poison some of the Christmas season plants are said to be. Some of the fears have merit, while others do not. For example, poinsettias - stores sell these plants with a warning attached, “Caution, don’t allow children or pets eat poinsettia leaves because they are poisonous.”
The truth is, poinsettia leaves taste simply awful. Not just because the growers spray the plants with lots of chemicals to keep away insect pests, but more importantly, the sap from this plant is bitter and burns the tongue. Puppies and children aren’t likely to eat anything that tastes so bad, and some studies have shown that a toddler would have to ingest 250 poinsettia leaves to cause a serious problem. The solution? Don’t put the plants where kids and pets can get to them.
Mistletoe also has a bad reputation. Nearly all the mistletoe you’ll find in stores is plastic, but if you were to go out into the Ozarks woodland and find your own mistletoe, here’s the scoop on that so-called, “poisonous” plant. If the white berries fall onto the floor, sweep them up. Even a few berries can be dangerous for a toddler, but if you’ve ever noticed fresh mistletoe, there aren’t many berries on a sprig of mistletoe. Solution? Pick the berries off before hanging, or sweep them up immediately when they fall.
By the way, mistletoe has been used in folk remedies for centuries. Injectable mistletoe extract is used in Europe but not licensed for use in the U.S. but should not be used without medical supervision.
Holly is said to have “potentially poisonous” red berries. If someone eats several, it’s true, they’ll have a reaction - vomiting. Hollies are botanically speaking, in the Ilex family of plants. That includes one variety named, Ilex vomitoria, meaning, it causes vomiting and was used by doctors in the 1800s to induce vomiting, believed as a cure. One berry, eaten by a kid or pet, isn’t likely to cause problems, but 20 berries could be fatal to a toddler if left untreated. The solution? Sweep up the berries or keep them away from toddlers.
Bittersweet, which grows along our roadsides is also listed as poisonous. The unripe berries are the more toxic part and contain solanine which can slow heart rate and cause drowsiness and headaches. They are also quite bitter. Toddlers or small puppies could possibly taste the berries should they fall onto the floor. With roadside spraying and fence clearing, it’s not that easy to find native bittersweet any more.
Using common sense, like keeping these plants away from toddlers and puppies, is always a good choice. If berries or plant parts fall on the floor, sweep them up. None of these plants are poison to the touch, none are tasty or tempting from their flavor and should be enjoyed for their color and long tradition as festive holiday plants.
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