Poinsettia Paranoia

Photo by Karen J. Budd, taken at Longwood Gardens

If the guests at your Christmas party get really drunk and start eating your poinsettia leaves this year, a call to Poison Control will not be necessary.  Turns out that our favorite Christmas plant is not as toxic as we thought.

The University of Illinois extension says that your fifty-pound child could go ahead and eat 500 poinsettia bracts and would probably only come away with “a slight tummy ache.”  I guess that’s reassuring, but I would imagine that a fifty pound kid would get a tummy ache after eating 500 of anything.

Nevertheless, the idea that poinsettias are poisonous is “a stubborn myth that refuses to die,” according to the University of Ohio, and fifty percent of Americans still believe the plants are dangerous.    

As far back as 1971, researchers at Ohio had declared poinsettias safe.  They fed vast quantities of poinsettia leaves – liquefied in a blender – to some unsuspecting rats, but apparently the rats didn’t even bat an eyelash at this cruel diet.  They were perfectly fine. 

But the myth continues.  Our poinsettia paranoia has its roots in an incident that occurred way back in 1919, when an Army officer declared that his two-year old died from eating a poinsettia bract.  The story was unfounded, but here we are in 2011, still trying to keep poinsettias out of reach of curious toddlers and pets.

So if you have avoided decorating with poinsettias because you thought they were poisonous, be at ease.   If you have avoided decorating with poinsettias because they are weird-looking and tacky, I cannot help you.

9 thoughts on “Poinsettia Paranoia

  1. Mary,
    The tone and style of this post are absolutely wonderful! I was ROTFL as I read it. I’m going to have some poinsettia bracts for breakfast to celebrate some excellent writing!

  2. I will be laughing over your post until this time next year….and then I’ll remember it and start laughing all over again. The last paragraph is one of the most brilliant things I’ve ever read, and I’m an English teacher by day (gardener by night – which is proving really difficult without sunlight), so I do a lot of reading. Thanks for posting your previous post on LinkedIn. I would have never seen this if you hadn’t! Keep up the great work!!!

  3. Julia Morton, a Miami plant guru created a chart of plants poisonous to people and animals and it became standard poster in emergency rooms in Florida. It’s not that the plants will kill you but the chart is useful since it explains the symptoms, such as a skin rash or upset stomach.

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