It’s that time of the year again, and we should expect at least a few thousand emails in our inboxes warning us not to let children or pets near the beautiful poinsettia plant. If you’re like me, the scary emails have been forwarded numerous times from well-meaning people. As a side note, when I receive any email that begs/demands/pleads that I send it to everyone I know, the red flag pops and my cynical side becomes activated.
The truth is, poinsettias are NOT poisonous, according to the poison index system (POISINDEX) and SNOPES.com, the urban legend debunker web site.
What’s really fascinating is that the myth started almost 100 years ago in Hawaii. A child of an Army officer stationed there died of poisoning, and the poinsettia plant was incorrectly linked to the poor child’s death. As there was obviously no internet nor email system back then, the myth was propagated verbally and in print. The so-called grapevine of communication really does work.
No deaths have ever been attributed to poinsettia plants since then. And as SNOPES points out, a fifty pound child would have to eat more than 1.25 pounds of the plant (between 500 and 600 leaves!) to exceed just the experimental dose set by the POINSINDEX. It’s unlikely that a child would eat more than one leaf, as the taste has been described as awfully bitter.
Well, what about pets, especially curious puppies and cats? The plant isn’t poisonous for them, either, although it can make them ill due to a milky sap that can irritate their throats. If there are signs of that happening, don’t worry as they are usually mild according to the Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine. Additionally, poinsettias are not listed on the Animal Poison Control Center’s list of toxic plants. A more dangerous substance for your dog to ingest would be chocolate, due to theobromine poisoning.
Even though the plant is non-poisonous, a good percentage of the population still thinks otherwise. In fact, a 1995 poll of the Society of American Florists responded with a 66% rate of those florists who believed it was poisonous. It’s interesting that florists wouldn’t know the factual information, as they supply thousands of poinsettias to churches, funeral homes, and individual customers. And I’m sure they get asked the question every year. Perhaps that’s why the poisonous plant myth stays viable.
So, enjoy the holiday season with your children, pets, and poinsettias with complete peace of mind!