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Plants to watch out for

With the holiday season here, it’s time to dispel the myth about Poinsettia being poisonous and let people know which holiday plants are toxic.

It’s also a good time to encourage everyone to add the number for the Nebraska Regional Poison Control Center to your smart phone. That number is 1-800-222-1222; or you can text “poison” to 797979 to save the contact information in a smart phone.

Despite common belief, Poinsettia is not poisonous. While the milky sap can cause an allergic reaction or skin irritation in some people, there has not been a recorded case of poisoning from ingesting Poinsettia.

In research of Poinsettia, even after reaching an experimental dose of about 1.25 pounds or 500 to 600 leaves, a poisonous dose was not found.

Some holiday plants are toxic and should be kept out of reach of children and pets; and their berries not tasted by curious adults.

Keep in mind the dose makes the poison. Generally, large quantities of some poisonous plants need to be eaten to have a severe reaction. However, a quantity that might not harm a large dog may potentially kill a small dog.

Amaryllis and mistletoe are toxic. The toxin is alkaloid lycorine which is an irritant of the gastrointestinal tract. The most toxic part of Amaryllis is the large bulb. The leaves of Amaryllis contain less of the toxin but can be toxic if eaten in large quantities.

All parts of Mistletoe are toxic. Eating just a few berries can result in mild gastroenteritis, acute diarrhea and vomiting. In severe cases, there may be labored breathing, dramatically lowered blood pressure, and heart failure.

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Caladium are sold at the holidays for their large colorful leaves which contain calcium oxalate. This is a chemical that causes severe burning and tongue swelling which can lead to difficulty breathing.

Regular houseplants that also contain oxalates include dumbcane (Dieffenbachia sp.), heartleaf philodendron, Swiss cheese plant (Monstera deliciosa), Spathiphyllum, arrowhead vine (Syngonium podophum) and devils ivy (Phothos).

The red berries of holly (Ilex sp.) are toxic. The toxin is saponin and eating just a few berries can induce vomiting, diarrhea, drowsiness and dehydration. Holly leaves also contain saponins but being prickly, they are unlikely to be eaten accidentally.

Know that holly berries can dry out fairly quick. Even if boughs are placed out of reach, the berries may dry up and drop from plants where children and pets can find them.

Jerusalem cherry, sold at the holidays for their large colorful berries, are in the nightshade family. Their fruit and foliage contain the toxin solanocapsine which causes a variety of symptoms that may be delayed 8 to 10 hours. Gastrointestinal effects are most common but the central nervous system can be affected which can be quite dangerous.

Two holiday plants listed as nonpoisonous by the Nebraska Regional Poison Control Center are Christmas cactus and Kalanchoe.

Kelly Feehan is a community environment educator for Nebraska Extension-Platte County.

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