Poinsettias: Are These Beautiful Holiday Blossoms Really Dangerous?

Poinsettias: Are These Beautiful Holiday Blossoms Really Dangerous?
Image: Pixabay

Could such a beautiful plant so commonly associated with the winter holidays also be so dangerous? If it is dangerous, what problems does it cause? Must it be ingested to cause problems? And if it's not dangerous, why does the myth live on?

The answers to these questions are not easy to find — in fact, you have to go back to 1919, when an army officer's child reportedly died after eating part of a poinsettia plant. In retrospect, it is unclear the plant was responsible because multiple other reports describe mild symptoms (such as nausea or vomiting), but no deaths.

A detailed analysis of almost 23,000 ingestions of poinsettia (published in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine in 1996) found no fatalities, and 96% of the cases required no treatment outside the home and 92% developed no symptoms. According to one estimate, a 50-pound child would have to eat more than 500 leaves to approach a dose that could cause symptoms.

Similarly, pets who ingest poinsettia may suffer gastrointestinal symptoms, but these plants pose no major threat to animals either. Though many people remain convinced of the plant's danger, the idea that poinsettias are deadly seems to be a myth that will not die.

The best piece of advice to protect children and pets from any perceived or actual adverse effects related to poinsettias, simply remember to place these plants out of reach of curious hands and paws.

While the plants may not be poisonous, the leaves do contain an alkaloid substance that can be irritating to mucus membranes found in the mouth and throat. If someone consumes these leaves, they can be bothersome in that way. Poinsettia leaves also contain a sap to which some people can have adverse reactions.