Debra Othitis Poinsetta photo.jpg

Poinsettias are among toxic holiday plants.

During the holiday season, you may use plants, cut flowers and flowering bulbs as decoration or give them as gifts. But did you know that many of these items can be poisonous to humans and pets with long-term negative effects to health?

A toxic plant is one that contains a chemical substance that produces a harmful response in the body of humans or animals when taken in small or moderate amounts. Plant poisoning can range from simple rashes and blisters to vomiting, diarrhea and moderate stomach pain. In severe cases, it can cause organ damage and even result in death.

Be safe this holiday season by being mindful of what plants and flowers you are giving, receiving or using to decorate. Some toxic holiday plants include amaryllis (Hippeastrum spp.); chrysanthemums; holly berries (Ilex species) and holly foliage (Hedera helix); Jerusalem cherry (Solanum pseudocapsicum); mistletoe berries (Phoradendron species); poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima); and yew holiday foliage (Taxus spp.).

There are three routes of exposure for poisoning: through the skin, inhaling through the nose and ingesting. With stomach poisons, it’s important to remember “the dose makes the poison.” In other words, an amount that won’t hurt an older child or larger dog might cause serious consequences in a younger child or small animal.

The signs of poisoning might not appear immediately, so if you suspect someone has been poisoned by a plant, call a doctor or the Poison Control Center (800-222-1222). Most can be assisted over the phone. However, if you’re advised to go to an emergency room, take the plant and the plant label with you. This key information can result in the proper treatment if the plant is poisonous. If the plant is not dangerous, knowing the name can prevent needless treatment and worry.

If you believe your pet has been poisoned by a house plant, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals recommends you contact either your local veterinarian or the Animal Poison Control Center (888-426-4435).

Here are seven simple steps to help minimize the risk that poisonous or toxic plants can cause:

• Know what plants you have in your home and the health risks they pose.

• Place poisonous plants out of reach of children and pets.

• Teach children not to put any part of a plant in their mouth.

• Discard plant leaves and flowers in a way that children and pets cannot get to them.

• Use protective gloves and clothing when handling plants that may be irritating to the skin.

• Wash your hands after handling plants.

• Don’t garnish food trays or tables with poisonous plants.

A list of all toxic houseplants can be found at

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