Are Poinsettia Poisonous?

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Robert Pavlis

The year is 1919 and a 2 year old girl died next to a poinsettia tree. The cause, poinsettia poisoning. Ever since then people have been aware that this lovely Christmas plant can be dangerous in the home.

Now for the real truth about the poisonous poinsettia ……

Are Poinsettia Poisonous?
Are Poinsettia Poisonous?

The Truth About 1919

Many sources suggest that the myth of the poisonous poinsettia started as described above, but nobody is certain that this is the  way the myth start. One source said this took place in Mexico where poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) grow naturally. Another said it was Hawaii. Or it might have been a young boy? Everyone seems to agree that it took place in 1919. 

I think we can conclude that nobody is really sure about how the myth started. Someone might have died from poisoning, but we can be fairly sure it was not from eating a poinsettia.

Are Poinsettia Poisonous? 

No! A study looking at 22,793 incidents of eating poinsettia found no fatalities and 96% received no medical treatment at all. The POISONDEX information database, the main poison resource in the US, says that a 50 pound child would need to eat 500 poinsettia leaves to become poisoned. Another source I looked at said that when they tried to find the safe level for poinsettia they gave up trying because the number of leaves you had to eat was to large.

Plant Science for Gardeners by Robert Pavlis

If you eat a lot you might get a tummy ache.

The poinsettia sap can irritate the mouth and can cause vomiting.

Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) is a euphorbia and these plants do produce a latex-type material in the stem and leaves. Some people have an allergic reaction when it comes into contact with skin (dermal irritation including redness, swelling, and itchiness). 

Is the Poinsettia Poisonous to Cats and Dogs? 

The poinsettia is mildly toxic to cats or dogs

Is the Poinsettia Poisonous to Birds?

I was a guest in a local newspaper gardening article and mentioned that poinsettia was not poisonous to cats and dogs. A lady wrote in to tell me that her parrot died from eating poinsettia leaves.  

I’ve checked to see if this is a problem and the plant does appear on several lists of poisonous plants for birds, but none of these are from reputable sources. Until you know better, be cautious. 

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Robert Pavlis

I have been gardening my whole life and have a science background. Besides writing and speaking about gardening, I own and operate a 6 acre private garden called Aspen Grove Gardens which now has over 3,000 perennials, grasses, shrubs and trees. Yes--I am a plantaholic!

7 thoughts on “Are Poinsettia Poisonous?”

  1. I don’t think it is clear from the context that the natural pesticides you refer to are the natural toxins that are internal to the plant – and which in low doses it is suggested are beneficial to us.
    I do agree with your sentiment Robert- and here in the UK the insecticides used on poinsettias are pyrethroids which are (Mstrothotte) VERY SAFE

    Reply
    • Never heard that natural pesticides are beneficial to us, but it certainly can be true. We can certainly digest them to get nutrients from them.

      Are there specific compounds that are both natural insect pesticides and beneficial molecules for humans?

      Reply
  2. The reason why poinsettias can be toxic comes from the pesticides used to rid the plants od whiteflies, a common problem for poinsettias.
    Some of the chemicals that were used in the past were extremely toxic.
    Even now, I would not recommend contact with the plants for that reason.

    Reply
      • I worked in the industry for a while.
        Have you heard of Temik? Active ingredient Aldicarb.
        LD 50 of 0.5 mg/kg.
        It was at one time used on Poinsettias.
        Thankfully, the product has been banned from the market.
        These sorts of things stay deep in the collective consciousness and are stated as “fact”.
        People are skittish about any pesticides at the best of times.

        Reply

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