Welcome to the third installment of our “Is it toxic?” plant blog series. Since there aren’t too many winter plants blooming outside in Illinois this time of year, we will be focusing on indoor holiday plants. While plant and berry ingestions are more commonly reported to the IPC in spring, summer and early fall, we do certainly get calls from people who have consumed these three plants in the winter:
Mistletoe (Phoradendron leucarpum)
The tradition of kissing under the Mistletoe during Christmastime has been around since the 18th century. It is indeed better to smooch someone than to ingest this plant. Swallowing too many leaves or berries can cause nausea and vomiting. Interesting Mistletoe fact: the common name roughly translates to “bird poop.” (Relay this tidbit to the next person standing with you underneath some Mistletoe and you are pretty much guaranteed a smooch!)
Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima)
The quintessential Christmas plant is actually native to south Mexico and Central America. Poinsettias have a bad rap, and we have written here before on the urban legend of the toxicity of Poinsettias. However, a mouthful of the plant will only cause some upset stomach, such as nausea or vomiting. You don’t want to make your holiday table salad out of poinsettia leaves, but a taste amount is not a serious problem.
Holly (Ilex spp)
Holly is another popular red and green plant used for holiday decorations. Holly has a long history of being a sacred plant, first by Druids to whom it represented fertility and eternal life, and later by Christians, who consider the pointed leaves and red berries symbolic of the crown of thorns upon Jesus Christ’s head during the Crucifixion. The name Holly actually comes from the German word translating to “Christ thorn.” Keeping in line with the other holiday plants above, this is another one that can cause nausea and vomiting if swallowed.
While none of these holiday plants are scarily toxic (especially compared to some on the spring and fall lists), no one wants to have gastrointestinal symptoms during the holidays. So, follow these indoor plant safety tips to keep everyone nausea-free this season:
- Keep all live plants and plant material high and out of reach of small children
- Consider using netting to catch falling leaves and berries
- Be vigilant about cleaning the floors and furniture if parts of the plant do fall
- Consider using the faux versions of these plants to keep children and pets safe—all the care needed is a once a week dusting and you can just pack them along with your Santa wrapping paper and use them again next year!
- And if all fails and someone does swallow any of these plants, call the IPC at 800-222-1222 any time of the day or night!