Poinsettias. Those lovely harbingers of yuletide. They're impossible to resist with their bold colors and tinfoil wrapped pots tied up with ribbons and bows. But shoppers ask, "Are they poisonous?" Buyers with small children, or pets who are plant nibblers, often worry because how many of us have heard that poinsettias are poisonous? All of us. So here are the facts.
Poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima) are part of the Euphorbiacea or Spurge family of plants, which is a big family. It includes everything from succulents to herbaceous plants and even evergreens.
Poinsettias don't have blooms. They have bracts (modified leaves). The bracts are the brilliant reds, pinks, or burgundy parts of the plant. The flowers are the tiny "cup" in the center of the bract called a cyathia.
Poinsettias drop their leaves (or bracts) right after they shed their pollen, so be sure to choose a plant with little or no pollen showing.
Poinsettias come from Mexico where they grow as a perennial shrub reaching heights of 10-15' tall. John Roberts Poinsett, a botanist, physician and first United States Ambassador to Mexico introduced it to America.
Poinsettias have a latex substance (milky, white sap) that oozes out when you break off a leave or stem. This substance is a chemical called diterpenoid euphorbol esters and saponin-like detergents. Some people do have a latex allergy but...
Poinsettias are not poisonous.
Poinsettias can be mildly toxic to dogs or cats, causing (only very rarely) drooling, itching, redness, swelling or vomiting and diarrhea. An Ohio State University study showed that a 50 lb. child would have to eat up to 500-600 leaves before experiencing any side effects. And, the leaves aren't tasty, so chances are good both children and pets would stay away after one bite.
Poinsettias are so low in toxicity that medical treatment is generally not required if pets or children ingest it. Here's the Mayo Link for children regarding poinsettias. And, here's the Pet Poison Helpline link.
Poinsettia Day is December 12th (in remembrance of their namesake), and all these fun facts mean you're safe to buy one and enjoy your yuletide.
Written by Cinthia Milner, garden coach and blog writer.
BB Barns Garden Center serves all of Western North Carolina, upstate South Carolina, and Tennessee.