Are your decorative holiday plants toxic?

Hanging a holly wreath on the front door to welcome guests…

Smelling the fresh evergreen scent as you walk by the tree…

Stealing a kiss underneath the mistletoe…

What do all these holiday images have in common? Poison. Yes, poison. Some or all parts of these plants are toxic to people, pets, or both. Many are also choking hazards.

Holly

Who doesn’t love the festive look of holly with its distinctively shaped glossy, dark green leaves and bright red berries? Me, actually – those leaves are sharp!

Far more importantly, the berries of the holly (ilex spp.) bush are genuinely toxic. Consumption of one or two is unlikely to have any effect, but any more than that can cause nausea, vomiting, severe abdominal cramping, and diarrhea. According to the downloadable holiday plant information brochure on the Central New York Poison Control Center’s website, eating 20 or so berries can be lethal.

Live Christmas Trees/Pines/Evergreens

Parts of some coniferous trees may be toxic if eaten in large amounts. Consumption of smaller amounts can cause gastrointestinal irritation and the needles can be a choking hazard. Evergreen sap can also cause skin irritation. While pine cones are not toxic, they’re not edible, either.

Live trees that are allowed to dry out are a fire hazard. Be sure to keep your tree well-watered and away from candles, fireplaces, radiators, space heaters, or other heat-producers, like halogen lamps. Make sure, too, that the reservoir for the tree is covered so that pets cannot attempt to drink from it. Chemicals used to treat the tree and the tree’s sap can mingle with the water in the stand, making it poisonous.

Mistletoe

Frequently referred to as the “kiss of death”, mistletoe is generally extremely toxic, particularly the berries.

I say generally because the deeper I dug the more contradicting information I found. The US Forest Service’s mistletoe web page indicates that mistletoe is only toxic in large quantities (i.e. larger than likely to be eaten by a person). Another site indicated that while it was unwise, an adult could conceivably safely ingest the berries but that they should still be kept from children and pets.

For the final word, contact a source you trust, whether it is your pediatrician or the local poison control center.

Poinsettias

Are not toxic. See my blog entry about poinsettias for more details.

If you have a question about any plant used in your décor, or think a child or pet may have consumed a dangerous plant, contact poison control immediately and do nothing until you have done so! Drinking liquids or emetic-induced vomiting can actually worsen the symptoms of some toxins so the best bet is to do nothing until you talk to a professional. This applies to both people and animals.

For pet-related poisoning, try the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435. They are available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Be warned, however, that they may assess a $50 consultation fee to your credit card.

For potential human poison issues, call Universal Poison Control at (800) 222-1222. This is an integrated national number (for U.S. residents) that connects you to your local poison control center based on the number you are calling from. Operators through the universal number can also handle animal/pet calls.

Have a safe & happy holiday season!