Do those festive plants get their pretty looks from ingredients that can kill children and pets? Relax. Most deadly reputations are exaggerated...but not all.
Here's a guide to the dangerous, the sickening and the safe.
- Christmas Rose (Helleborus niger)
This plant produces a pink-tinged white blossom. Mentioned by the Greeks for its legendary toxicity, the rose may cause dermatitis when gardeners are exposed to bruised roots, leaves, stems and flowers. Ingestion can bring on symptoms ranging from a tingling mouth to death.
Noted for its stiff green leaves, kids love the plant's bright red berries, which are extremely lethal. Reports indicate if ingested, 20 berries can kill a child.
- Jerusalem Cherry (Solanum pseudocapsicum)
Identify this plant by its bright orange to scarlet berries. Beware, the entire plant is toxic. Symptoms include vomiting, redness of the skin, drowsiness, restlessness, hallucinations and seizures.
- Mistletoe (Phoradendron spp.)
When you kiss under this plant, be sure nothing drops into your mouth. Place a plastic bag over it before you hang it to keep its toxic parts from falling within reach of kids and critters.
- Oriental Bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus)
All parts of the ornamental version of this plant are toxic but it is the unripe berries that contain the highest concentration of Solanine. This substance drops heart rates below 60 and causes sedation and headaches.
- Rosary Pea or Jequirity Bean (Abrus precatorius)
Commonly used in rosary beads and jewelry because of its beautiful dark red color and black-tipped end. Warning - it is one of the most lethal, naturally occurring toxins known today. If the beans are chewed and swallowed, vomiting and stomach-ache occurs within a few hours followed by bloody diarrhea and then worse.
These plants won't kill you but can cause various problems that range from mild irritations to severe reactions.
- Amaryllis (Hippeastrum spp.)
Vibrantly-colored flowers and green strap-shaped leaves identify this exotic plant from tropical America and Africa. You'll get a stomach-ache if the bulb is eaten.
- Christmas Trees and Greens
Contact with the sap can cause a rash and make the skin itch. Consuming the bark can cause a tummy ache. Ingesting the needles can cause varying degrees of localized irritation and gastrointestinal upset but choking is the major concern. Pine cones are not toxic but can cause skin rashes.
- Poinsettia (Euphorbia spp.)
Contrary to popular myth, poinsettias are not poisonous. However, the plants are irritants, which can cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea if consumed. The milky sap from the flower causes skin rashes, so wash it off quickly.
Deck the halls generously and gloriously with these kid-friendly, traditional floras.
- Christmas Cactus (Zygocactus truncatus)
This is an old, non-toxic favorite during the holidays. Its arching, drooping branches are made up of flattened, scallop-edged, smooth, bright green, spineless joints. Rosy flowers appear at Christmas time.
- Pyracantha (Pyracantha spp.)
Often used in holiday center-pieces, this plant is a thorny bush that belongs to the rose family. It has oblong, shiny leaves, white flowers and a lot of berries during the winter season. If large amounts of berries are eaten, a stomach-ache may result. However, they are used to make jelly so in small quantities are edible.
Be wise. Any plant can cause coughing, choking or stomach upset if enough is eaten. If you have concerns about what Susie or Fluffy just consumed, call The Poison Center hotline, 1-800-222-1222, 24/7/365 for free, professional advice and directions to your nearest treatment center.