Are Poinsettias Poisonous? Only if You Believe Urban Legends

The supposed death of a two year-old in 1919 after eating a poinsettia leaf seems to be the genesis of a persistent urban legend that poinsettias are deadly for children and pets. While there may not be too many kids or dogs on your Interiorscape service routes, many in the plantscape industry still hear this question from clients dozens of times a season.

Ironically many of you may still answer “yes!” Nearly 66 percent of those participating in a 1995 Society of American Florists poll believed poinsettias toxic if eaten. A 1994 survey of 1,000 Americans by Bruskin/Goldring Research for the Society of American Florists showed that 42 percent of men and 57 percent of women polled also thought that.

The truth is that poinsettia leaves taste awful – but don’t kill.  The assumed cause of the toddler’s death was never confirmed according to the well-respected myth debunking site snopes.com. In fact, after extensive testing by the American Society of Florists and the Ohio State University, researchers confirmed that no part of the Poinsettia plant is toxic. While the leaves may cause minor skin irritation, and consuming any part of the plant could result in a stomachache, there is no documented evidence that ingesting any part of a Poinsettia would be life-threatening or has actually killed anyone.

A 50 lb. child — the average size of a 5 year/old — would have to eat more than 500 leaves to exceed the doses used in the experiment, according to the POISINDEX Information Service. Further, the American Medical Association’s Handbook of Poisonous and Injurious Plants lists nothing more than occasional vomiting as a side effect of ingesting otherwise harmless poinsettia leaves.

Seasonal and/or everyday houseplants, which can cause severe reactions (even death), include holly, ivy, rhododendrons, and azaleas. Those are the plants that should have urban legends following them. And this is a FACT: if any of your clients (or their pets for that matter) ingest these deadly plants, contact the American Association of Poison Control Centers at 800-222-1222.

Fun Facts About Poinsettias:

  • Poinsettias are native to Mexico, where the Aztecs used them from the 14th century until the 16th century for medicinal purposes, and for making dye.
  • Joel Robert Poinsett, the first United States ambassador to Mexico, introduced the plant to the United States in 1825 and they were named after him.
  • They are now grown commercially in all 50 states.
  • They represent over 85 percent of the potted plant sales during the holiday season.
  • December 12th was National Poinsettia Day.

What’s your experience with customer reactions to Poinsettia displays? Any panicked phone calls? Please leave a comment in the “Leave a Reply” box.

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