November-December, 2003


Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas


No, Virginia, Poinsettias Are Not Poisonous

Paul Ecke Ranch, Encinitas, California

Native Texas Poinsettia
Native Texas Poinsettia, Euphorbia cyathophora

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus - and he can safely bring you beautiful poinsettias to fill your home during the holidays. Because, contrary to popular belief, poinsettias are not poisonous.

The myth began 83 years ago in Hawaii. According to the story, the young child of an Army officer stationed there died after eating poinsettia leaves. The true story, however, was revealed by James W. Boodley, PhD. and Professor Emeritus, Cornell University. In 1972, while a visiting professor at the University of Hawaii, Dr. Boodley contacted the hospital where the attending physician had been employed. The physician had died but the hospital put Dr. Boodley in touch with his son who said that the story was not true. Although he did not know how the story originally got started, he did know that poinsettias were not involved in the death. Nonetheless, once started, the myth continued to be picked up, developing into what is today a widely held yet false belief.

Dr. Boodley's interest was due in part to research conducted the year before, in 1971, by The Ohio State University. There researchers tested the toxicity of poinsettias by adding the plants to a liquid solution, mixing it in a blender and feeding it to 55 rats.

The researchers, writing in the journal Toxicon, concluded that rats, "when given extraordinarily high doses of various portions of the poinsettia, show no mortality, no symptoms of toxicity nor any changes in dietary intake or general behavior pattern." (1)

According to the Society of American Florists (SAF), the poinsettia is the most widely tested consumer plant on the market today and research has proven over and over again that the plant is not toxic.

For example, according to POISINDEX, the national information center for poison control centers, a 50-pound child would have to ingest 500-600 poinsettia bracts (leaves) to exceed the experiment doses that found no toxicity in the OSU study-doses that are far greater than those likely to occur in a home environment. Even at this high level, no toxicity was demonstrated.

Like other house plants, poinsettias are not meant to be eaten. Nonetheless, the research shows that ingestion of a substantial number of poinsettia leaves will cause little reaction, those reactions including possible nausea and vomiting or mild skin irritation in sensitive individuals due to the latex in the sap.

A study by the Children's Hospital in Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University found that out of 22,793 reported poinsettia exposures, there was essentially no toxicity significance. The study used data from the American Association of Poison Control Centers.(2)

Francis Kosher, Ph.D., of the American Council on Science and Health reports in an article, "The Myth of the 'Poisonous' Poinsettia,"(3) that in 1996, Dr. Edward Krenzelok, director of Pittsburgh Poison Center, looked at the real-life effects of humans unintentionally consuming any part of the poinsettia. Dr. Krenzelok and his co-workers "analyzed the health effects observed in the approximately 850,000 plant exposures reported to the American Association of Poison Control Centers. Poinsettia exposures accounted for almost 23,000 cases. There were no fatalities among any poinsettia exposures, even among children."

Dr. Koschier reported that "The analysis of the AAPCC data was also evaluated for the types of effects produced in the 21,000 cases involving children. Very few cases (4 percent) even needed evaluation or treatment in a healthcare facility. A total of 92 percent of children ingesting poinsettia parts reported no effect at all."

Dr. Krenzelok "summarized his findings by saying it is 'highly unlikely for any significant adverse effect to occur after ingestion of small to modest amounts of the poinsettia plant.'" He added the wise advice that "If you have questions on an exposure to the poinsettia plant, don't hesitate to call a poison control center for additional advice."

These are just a few of the many resources dispelling the myth of the poisonous poinsettia. So go ahead and enjoy this special holiday floral tradition secure in the knowledge that it is not only beautiful but safe.(4) Share the myth of the poisonous poinsettia with friends and family. And share the holiday magic that the many varieties of poinsettias-from red to pink to purple and more-bring, when poinsettias, like Christmas, come but once a year.

1 Grabmeier, Jeff. 1998. "Despite the Myth, Ohio State Study Proved Poinsettias Non Toxic." The Ohio State University NEWS, December 15.
2 Society of American Florists. 2001. Society of American Florists DATELINE, Sept. 24, Vol. 14 (Number 16)
3 Koschier, Francis, Ph.D., American Council on Science and Health. 1999. "The Myth of the 'Poisonous' Poinsettia." Dec. 10.
Retrieved Nov. 15, 2000 (http://www.drkoop.com)
4 This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease without consulting with a qualified healthcare provided. Please consult your healthcare provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your condition.

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