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The Poinsettia is Not Poisonous -- a Myth Debunked by Research

Maria is a master of public health, and a master gardener. She & husband Bo, known online as The Gardener & The Cook are in coastal Alabama.

The traditional red poinsettia that became known as The Christmas Flower. These beautiful plants are innocent, but their sap can cause skin irritation.

The traditional red poinsettia that became known as The Christmas Flower. These beautiful plants are innocent, but their sap can cause skin irritation.

For years, it has been believed by many people that poinsettias are poisonous. They are not. Unfortunately, the occasional pet, or even a child, may taste a leaf or bract of a poinsettia. Fortunately, the belief that they are poisonous is not true. Poinsettias are not a poisonous plant.

They Can, However, Cause Nausea and Vomiting

While eating the leaves can bring on nausea and vomiting, most pets (and yep, kids, too) will stop eating it after one taste. That reminds me of the rabbits that took a bite of my caladiums, then left them on the ground. Apparently, they did not taste good, either.

The poinsettia belongs to a plant family called spurges (Euphorbia pulcherrima) contains some highly toxic plants, but the poinsettia is not one of them. Yes, there have been times when children were thought to have been poisoned by one of them, but it turned out to have been something else entirely.

The deep pink poinsettia has not surpassed the red and white ones in popularity, but it is still highly popular.

The deep pink poinsettia has not surpassed the red and white ones in popularity, but it is still highly popular.

POISINDEX -- an Emergency Poison Management System

According to POISINDEX, an emergency poison management system, a 50-pound pet or child would need to eat over 500 poinsettia bracts or leaves to receive enough toxins from that plant. As bad as they are said to taste, it is highly doubtful anyone, human, canine, or feline, would ingest anywhere near enough to become poisoned.

There is An App for POISINDEX

This is the link to the desktop application:

http://help.toxicall.com/index.html#!micromedexpoisindexdesktopapplicationperformingalookup.htm

This white poinsettia grew to be about 4 feet tall in the yard of our former home in central Florida.

This white poinsettia grew to be about 4 feet tall in the yard of our former home in central Florida.

There Are No Documented Cases of Death, But…

While there are no documented cases of death from ingesting any part of a poinsettia, the sap can cause skin irritation. When handling my poinsettias, I usually wear garden gloves for this reason. If the sap gets on your skin, wash quickly with soap and water, and be sure to avoid touching your eyes if sap is on your hands.

The Belief Poinsettias Were Poisonous Began in 1919

When the two-year-old daughter of a U.S. Army officer died, everyone around her attributed the death to her having eaten poinsettia bracts. After a public health investigation, no proof was found.

There was never anything to indicate the child had died as a result of eating the poinsettia bracts. Most likely, she had eaten them at some point, became sick afterward from something else, and then died a few hours later. Many years after this, biological research into these plants consistently ruled out "death by poinsettia".

This pink and cream marbled hybrid has grown to be one of my favorite poinsettias.

This pink and cream marbled hybrid has grown to be one of my favorite poinsettias.

A Good Thing to Know

With the many winter holidays approaching, it is comforting to know this beloved plant is not poisonous. Still, because it can cause nausea and vomiting, and the sap can cause skin irritation, it is certainly wise to keep it away from pets and small children.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa

Wishing you a safe and happy holiday season.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 MariaMontgomery

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