December 21, 2006 at 6:52 a.m.
The poinsettia is everyone's favorite holiday plant. However, it has gotten a bum rap for years. It's been falsely accused of being poisonous, yet no deaths from this plant have ever been recorded. This doesn't mean the poinsettia doesn't have toxic properties. If ingested, it can irritate the mouth and stomach, sometimes resulting in diarrhea or vomiting.
The sap may cause a poison ivy-like blistering on contact with the skin unless washed off immediately. That's why it's important to place poinsettias, and other holiday plants, out of the reach of children and curious pets.
Eating the bright red berries of the holly will cause nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhea. In more severe cases holly can injure the stomach lining.
The seed of the Jequirity bean, or Indian prayer bean, is poisonous if eaten and can cause death. This black-tipped, scarlet bean is used in many dry arrangements.
Every part of the Jerusalem cherry, Solanum pseudocapsicum, contains toxic substances. Eating the fruit or foliage will adversely affect the heart.
Nibbling on the greenish, white berries of the mistletoe can cause acute stomach and intestinal disorders.
One might not think the yew is toxic, but it is. The leaves, seeds, bark, and twigs of the evergreen can be dangerous. It can cause breathing difficulties, uncontrollable trembling and vomiting.
Babies, in particular, seem fascinated by the bright berries and shiny or colorful leaves found on many holiday plants and are often tempted to take a bite. Although few plants cause death you should contact your local poison control center or poison control unit of your local hospital if you suspect your child has eaten any leaves, berries, or flowers of a plant.
There are other house plants which are very dangerous. According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers the eight most dangerous houseplants are also the most common. They include Philodendrons, Peace Lilies, Holly (which has already been mentioned), Dieffenbachia, Pathos, Azalea, Ivy, and Umbrella plant.
Plants in the arum family, which includes Philodendrons, Pathos, Peace Lilies, and Dieffenbachia, contain tiny crystals in their chemical make-up. This can inflame the skin with prolonged contact, or if ingested, inflame the mouth and throat causing airways to block.
There are some suggestions that should be followed for both the home and the yard. First, have the telephone number to your local poison control posted near the telephone. Be sure you know exactly what type of plants you have, both inside and outside your home. If you don't know the name of a plant have it identified at the nearest landscape or garden center.
Label your plants with both their common and Latin name, if possible. If you have plants that are toxic or dangerous, you may want to contact your local poison control center for more information about what steps to take if they were accidentally ingested.
Finally, and perhaps the most important, if you use chemical fertilizers or pesticides on your houseplants or in your garden, keep them stored in their original containers. Don't transfer them into pop bottles, cans, spray bottles, etc. and don't take off the labels. Lock them safely away as these chemicals can be more dangerous than the plants themselves.
You can get more information about plants you have in your home and other poison concerns, including information about plants and your pets at the Hennepin Regional Poison Center website: www.mnpoison.org.
Be sure to keep their number by your phone for any emergency you may have (800) 222-1222.