Despite the Persistent Myth…Poinsettias are Non-Toxic to Pets and Children!

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Despite the Persistent Myth…Poinsettias are Non-Toxic to Pets and Children!
You can safely purchase that beautiful holiday poinsettia to fill your home this holiday season! Contrary to popular belief, poinsettias are not poisonous. The Society of American Florists (SAF) funded a poll in 1995 and reported that 66% of the respondents held the false impression that poinsettias are toxic if eaten. The SAF reports that the poinsettia is one of the most widely tested consumer plants and has been proven safe. However, even with all the scientific studies this persistent myth remains just that…a widely held false belief.

Many say the myth started some 93 years ago in Hawaii. According to the story, it was reported that a small child of a military officer stationed there died after ingesting poinsettia leaves. This report was proven to be inaccurate back in the 1970s by Dr. James Boodley, Prof Emeritus, Dept of Horticulture, Cornell University, while a visiting professor at the University of Hawaii. However, the myth had proliferated in the 50 years prior to his findings; spreading to the far reaches of the planet and remained entrenched in the minds of many.

One of the early studies regarding poinsettia toxicity was conducted in 1971 by Ohio State University on laboratory rats. The toxicity of poinsettias was tested by blending various parts of the plant, adding it to a liquid solution and feeding it to the rats. The researchers reported the lab rats were given very large doses of the plant and showed no mortality, displayed no symptoms of toxicity and there were no changes in their dietary intake or general behavior patterns. No adverse effects were reported.

As reported by the Colorado State University Extension (CSUE) “The POISINDEX® Information Service, the primary resource used by most poison control centers, states that a 50-pound child would have to eat more than 500 poinsettia bracts to surpass experimental doses that found no toxicity in the OSU study - doses that are far greater than those likely to occur in a home environment. Even at this high level, no toxicity was demonstrated. Based on the rodent tests, accepted by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, the commission denied a 1975 petition filed by a New York citizen demanding that poinsettia plants carry caution labels that indicate they are poisonous.”

Poinsettia plants are not edible and are not intended to be eaten. The CSUE indicates that “with its close genetic ties to the rubber tree, which is where natural latex is derived, those who are sensitive may also be sensitive to the latex from poinsettias. If eaten, parts of the plant may cause varying degrees of discomfort, including possible nausea and vomiting or mild skin irritation in sensitive individuals due to the latex in the sap, but not death.”

A study by the Children's Hospital in Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University found that out of 22,793 reported poinsettia exposures, there was essentially no toxicity significance. The study used data from the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC) and analyzed the health effects observed in the exposures. It was reported there were no fatalities among any poinsettia exposures, even among children. Francis Kosher, Ph.D., of the American Council on Science and Health reports in an article, The Myth of the 'Poisonous' Poinsettia, that "the analysis of the AAPCC data was also evaluated for the types of effects produced in the 21,000 cases involving children. Very few cases (4 percent) even needed evaluation or treatment in a healthcare facility. A total of 92 percent of children ingesting poinsettia parts reported no effect at all."

Poinsettias are also commonly assumed to be poisonous to household pets. However, as reported on the Pet Poison Helpline website “while commonly hyped as poisonous plants, they rarely are, and the poisoning is greatly exaggerated. Mild signs of vomiting, drooling, or rarely, diarrhea may be seen. If the milky sap is exposed to skin, dermal irritation may develop. Rarely, eye exposure can result in a mild conjunctivitis (“pink eye”). Signs are self-limiting and generally don’t require medical treatment unless severe. There is no antidote for poinsettia poisoning. That said, due to the low level of toxicity seen with poinsettia ingestion, medical treatment is rarely necessary unless clinical signs are severe.”

The Pet Poison Helpline website issues a staunch warning that there are far more worrisome holiday bouquets and yuletide plants that can have severe negative effects on your pet more. It’s always best to keep your holiday flowers and plants out of the reach of young children and household pets. Especially when bringing something new into the home.

Scientific research debunks the myth that poinsettias are dangerous. It’s actually one of the safer plants to decorate with during the holiday season. With their beauty and dazzling array of colors they’re a wonderful and affordable gift. Many folks even choose to send a gorgeous poinsettia as a sympathy arrangement this time of year. This special holiday tradition is not only beautiful, it’s safe.

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