Christmas trees, Santa Claus, menorahs, and glittering lighting displays are just a few of the many prominent symbols of the holiday season. And while mistletoe might garner more attention and inspire more displays of affection, poinsettias are another prominent sign that the holiday season has arrived.
Thanks to its bright red and green colors, the poinsettia is perhaps the ideal holiday plant. But as much as it suits holiday decor and seems tailor-made for that special time of year between Thanksgiving and the first of January, the poinsettia has a reputation that few plants would want.
First discovered in Mexico and brought to the United States by Dr. Joel Poinsett, the poinsettia has long been rumored to be poisonous. However, the National Capital Poison Center notes that poinsettias are not deadly. In fact, the NCPC notes that the rumor that poinsettias are deadly may have been around for more than a century, tracing its origins all the way back to a child who was found dead lying next to a poinsettia plant. The plant was blamed for the child’s death, and even though that blame was misplaced, the stigma stuck. WebMD notes that others trace the false rumors surrounding poinsettias to 1919, when parents blamed the death of their daughter, who they thought had eaten poinsettia leaves, on this ubiquitous holiday plant.
Even today, when researchers have long since proven that poinsettias are not deadly, many people still believe they can be fatal if consumed.
The NCPC notes that, in most cases, exposure to any part of a poinsettia plant in children or pets has little, if any, effect. However, if the plant is swallowed, some people and pets may experience symptoms including nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. Some who touch the plant may develop a rash after contact.
While poinsettias are not deadly, the NCPC still advises those who plan to include the plant in their holiday decor to take every measure necessary to prevent children and pets from swallowing it. Placing poinsettias beyond the reach of kids and pets is one simple way to accomplish just that.
Poinsettias are seemingly everywhere come the holiday season. And because they’re not fatal, celebrants can continue to display these beautiful plants that call to mind the colors of the holiday season.