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Entries in mistletoe (1)


Home Holiday Safety - separating fact from fiction

Are poinsettia plants poisonous?  Is that holly harmful?  Is the mistletoe toxic?  Unfortunately, it can be tricky to figure out what plants to avoid if you're decorating for the holidays with little ones toddling around (especially if those little ones also enjoy putting things in their mouths).

So let's set the record straight:

Poinsettia plants are NOT poisionous.  In fact, a few years ago, a large national poison control study of nearly 23,000 poinsettia exposures reported no significant toxicity of any kind (no illnesses, severe reactions, or deaths).  Of course, it's not considered an edible plant and eating too much may give you a mild stomachache, vomiting or diarrhea, but it won’t kill you.  

Holly can be VERY harmful.  These bright red berries look especially enticing to young children.  In most cases, a child can eat 1-2 holly berries (Ilex) without harm, but around 20 berries can cause serious side effects and even death. And although the berries are the part that is most commonly eaten, the bark, leaves, and seeds are also toxic. 

Mistletoe may be toxic (depends on which kind and what part is eaten).  There are several species of mistletoe. Both the Phoradendron and Viscum species contains a toxin that can cause a whole host of unpleasant symptoms (blurry vision, stomach aches, vomiting and diarrhea, blood pressure changes) and even death. But this seems to be the excpetion rather than the rule.  Research shows that most often, ingestion leads to some minor stomach ache (or no symptoms at all).  In fact, studies of hundreds of cases of accidental mistletoe ingestion over several years show there were no deaths and only a handful of severe reactions. One study published in 1996 found that only a small fraction of patients showed any symptoms after eating mistetoe and over 3/4 of those who ate 5 or more berries had no symptoms.  However, it does seem the berries are the most toxic part of the plant.

Other tips for making your home safe during the holidays:


  • Decorate with children in mind!  Do not put breakable ornaments on the lower branches of a tree.
  • Keep decorative lights out of reach of small children
  • Inspect all lights for exposed or frayed wires.
  • Natural Christmas trees can pose a fire hazard.  To minimie the risk - purchase a fresh tree and keep it watered at all times.
  • Make sure all smoke alarms have batteries and are working.
  • Purchase age appropriate toys (do not allow a small infant or toddler to play with toys with small parts that could pose a choking hazard).  Hint - if a toy is too small to fit inside a standard cardboard toilet paper roll, a infant or toddler may choke on it.
  • Beware that batteries and magnets can cause severe damage if swallowed (these are often found in toys, greeting cards, small electronics, and watches).  If you suspect your child may have swallowed an object that contains a battery or magnet, seek emergent care.



Click here for more holiday safety tips