It’s not the first thing you think of when it comes to Christmas. Many of us decide to buy some festive plants once December comes around – the odd poinsettia or a little ivy and mistletoe, at the very least. They add a touch of vibrancy and Yuletide spirit to any home.
The trouble is many of these plants are poisonous to humans and animals to varying degrees. If you have small children or curious pets that may take a liking to your poinsettia, you will want to think carefully where you place your Christmas greenery. We have compiled a list of the most common festive flora and fauna and guidance on toxicity.
There’s no other plant that says Christmas as much as the holly bush. Unfortunately, the prickly, hard leaves can cause scratches and the berries have a toxic effect when ingested, even in small amounts. This is caused by a substance called theobromine which is not very good for the gut. Swallowing a few berries can cause vomiting and diarrhoea, so you will certainly want to make sure these are kept well out of reach.
Slightly less common nowadays but is still one of the more traditional Christmas plants. Mistletoe is actually more parasite than conventional plant and there are various poisonous ones including the European and North American varieties. European mistletoe contains the toxicity in its leaves and berries which can cause severe gastrointestinal problems if ingested. The North American varieties contain a substance called phoratoxin which causes nausea, diarrhoea and blurred vision. Perhaps there is a reason we traditionally hang Mistletoe from the ceiling?
Another attractive festive plant is English Ivy, something which looks great wrapped around wreaths and used throughout the home. The problem with ivy is that the leaves cause issues such as dermatitis and inflammation if you touch them. While not so poisonous to ingest, if you eat enough it can cause burning and breathing difficulties.
Yews are again less popular than in the past when they were a staple part of everyone’s Christmas decorations. The berries contain compounds known as taxines that can have an effect on heart rate which, in certain circumstances, can be life-threatening. Besides that, ingesting the berries can cause gastrointestinal problems such as diarrhoea and vomiting.
Increasingly popular over the last decade or so. Every December, supermarkets begin to fill up with striking red leaved, poinsettia plants even though there’s always been an understanding they are quite poisonous. This isn’t quite true. While eating poinsettia leaves may cause mild nausea, they’re not toxic for humans. They do, however, have a detrimental effect for pets like cats and dogs.
Other Plants to look out for
There are a number of other plants that may well have a toxic effect, if not for humans then certainly for animals. These include coleus plants which have variegated leaves and cyclamen which can cause slight nausea. The flowers of the delightfully named Christmas Rose can also cause a burning sensation in the mouth if ingested.
These traditional festive plants can still be used as part of your Christmas decorations, just make sure you place them out of reach. Most adults and older children know not to put plants in their mouths. Smaller children and pets are the ones we need to look out for.