For anyone raised on the premise that the beautiful seasonal poinsettia plant is poisonous for you or your pets, rest assured - it simply isn't so. It's just another one of many myths that surrounds the holidays.
Every year the perennial question asked around this time of year revolves around poinsettias and mistletoe and the rumor about the plants' toxicity. While the plant does belong to a group of plants that does contain some highly toxic components, the ever-popular red-leaved flower and its popular counterpart - mistletoe - itself is not toxic according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers.
"I've grown up on that myth," said Bill Dyott, owner of Severna Flowers & Gifts on McKinsey Road. "For years people just wouldn't purchase them for fear their pets would get sick if they chewed on the plant."
"They are not poisonous, but I guess pets might have a reaction just like any plant that you would not normally eat if you consumed enough."
Since the taste of poinsettia leaves is reportedly very unpleasant, it is unlikely that a child or animal who attempts to eat the leaves will continue to do so after the first taste. According to the POISINDEX information source, the primary resource used by the majority of poison control centers nationwide, a child who weighs 50 pounds would have to consume more than 500 poinsettia leaves to reach an even possible toxic dose.
That said, experts caution that taking anything in excess can be hazardous. But feel free to deck your halls with poinsettias this season. Just remember that poinsettias do not like cold drafts and definitely do not like to be wet.
"Keep them moist; not sitting in water," said Dyott. "Better to keep them on the dryer side."
Mistletoe, too, has suffered from a bad reputation. In 2008, poison centers took 132 calls about human exposures to mistletoe and in 2007, 131 calls about the plant. During both years, only one person saw a moderate medical outcome because of mistletoe exposure.
Mistletoe, which according to Christmas custom obliges two people who meet under a hanging of mistletoe to kiss, can be found at many local garden centers. Poinsettias, indigenous to Mexico and Central America, are widely available in a vast assortment of sizes and colors ranging from white to red and every combination in between.
The American Association of Poison Control Centers offer free and confidential services 365 days a year and around the clock. If you have questions or someone has eaten part of a mistletoe or poinsettia, please call 1-800- 222-1222.