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Poinsettias and Plants That May, or May not be, Poisonous

Poinsettia, not poisonous
While Poinsettia plants are not actually poisonous, I was recently asked about this.  As a concerned parent of two young children, I decided to do some research about poisonous plants, and learned that the toddler in my life is more harmful to my Poinsettia houseplant than the plant is to him.

However, this is not true of all plants in our home and landscape.  Some plants that grow in our landscape or surrounding areas can be dangerous for our children and pets.  One website that I often visit when looking into poisonous plants is CSU's Guide to Poisonous Plants, http://southcampus.colostate.edu/poisonous_plants/index.cfm.  This is a searchable website written by Dr. Tony Knight, DVM from the CSU Veterinary School.  Dr. Knight is a world-recognized expert on plant toxins for animals, but he cross references many of his plants as affecting humans.

Upon visiting the site and searching for 'humans,' a list of 22 plants was returned.  This site has good color pictures of plants, animals affected, and geographic locations of these plants.  Of course, there are many plants we are not likely to plant in our landscapes (like leafy spurge, water hemlock, death camas, or buckeyes). Yet, there are some plants that may find their way into our landscapes or potted plants (like Oleander, Autumn crocus, Glory lily, Rhododendron, Delphinium and Daffodils) that are toxic.  Easter lilies are especially toxic to house cats.
Easter lily
I also visited the Cornell University website for toxic plants, http://www.ansci.cornell.edu/plants/index.html and did a search for plants poisonous to humans.  About 55 plants were returned in this search (including several mushroom species).  Included in this list is the Poinsettia, which was surprising.  The Society of American Florists has given a 'Clean Bill of Health' to the Poinsettia plant. It is, however, wise to keep Poinsettias and other plants out of the reach of children and household pets that show a desire to chew or eat plants.  The white latex sap in the leaves and stems is mildly irritating to the mucous membranes of the mouth, and for some animals it will induce excessive salivation and vomiting if plant parts are swallowed. The wide variety of hybrid poinsettias available today have very little toxicity compared to the parent species.  Other Euphorbia’s, include the various spurges, have been shown to be hazardous to humans when handled or consumed.
Leafy spurge

I also researched the incidence of plant poisonings for this article and was surprised at some of the findings.  According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, there were 64,236 (2.7 %) cases involving plants.  In pediatrics (age 5 or less), the percentage is higher (3.7%).  Of the plant calls received by poison control centers involved in this report, the Poinsettia was number 2 on the list.  For more information, visit their website at http://www.aapcc.org.  Should you suspect poisoning, call 1-800-222-1222.  If it is an emergency, of course, dial 911.

So what should you do to prevent unwanted poisonings?  First, keep plants out of the reach of children.  Babies and toddlers like to stick new items into their mouths, and plants parts may be a choking hazard even if they are not poisonous.  Learn to identify problematic plants in and around your home.  Do some research on potential plant additions before bringing them home and endangering children or pets.  Should you have poisonous plants in your landscape or home, consider removing or take steps to insure they cannot harm (i.e. fencing off or elevating them in your home).
Kurt Jones is the CSU Chaffee County Extension Director
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