, Muskogee, OK

December 12, 2012

Pretty but dangerous

Many plants used for holiday decor are toxic

By Molly Day
All the Dirt on Gardening

— Decorating for the holiday season often includes both live and artificial plants such as evergreen boughs, wreaths, Christmas trees and holly.

Fresh greenery adds cheer and beauty, but it is important to keep most live plants out of the mouths of children and pets.

Chewing leaves and berries can cause stomach upset or worse. Keep your family and friends safe throughout the season by knowing the name of each plant you bring into the house and whether it is toxic. For example, Christmas cactus and African violets are completely safe.

Most plants with berries pose a danger, whether they are fresh or artificial. Berries from live greens are mostly toxic to children and small animals, and plastic berries pose a choking hazard. Both live and plastic berries tend to fall onto the floor, so they should be picked up at least daily.

If you have to call poison control, you will need to know the name of the plant that was eaten, so keep the information handy as plants are brought in.

Everything on amaryllis and paperwhite daffodils/narcissus is toxic when eaten. Pets can pull pots over and snack on the bulbs, leading to significant stomach problems.

The red berries of Brazilian pepper make it a beautiful addition to holiday décor. However, contact with everything from its shiny green leaves to its berries can cause rashes and breathing problems.

Holly has spines on its leaves, so children and pets usually avoid it. The berries are so toxic to humans that eating only two berries can cause illness and eating 20 can cause death. The bark, seeds and leaves are also toxic.

The fruit of Jerusalem cherry looks like a cherry tomato. Sadly they are poisonous to dogs, cats and birds. The entire plant is poisonous to humans and children are especially vulnerable.

Accidentally eating any part of mistletoe can cause nausea and worse. It is a good idea to put mistletoe into a pretty bag before it is hung. That way if any part of it starts to fall, it will not hit the floor.

Poinsettias are not really the poisonous problem we have been led to believe. Eating the bracts will cause nausea, and contact with the sap can cause a rash in people sensitive to Euphorbias, but they are generally safe.

Beautifully flowering cyclamen is poisonous to pets. Snacking on the tubers can cause convulsions and paralysis in small animals.

Caladiums are poisonous houseplants with pink, cream and green leaves and flowers. They are mildly toxic to children and pets.

Aloe vera plants are grown inside the house to use for healing skin wounds but the sap can cause stomach upset if eaten.

Calla lilies (prayer plant) are often given as gifts during the holidays. The leaves, flowers and roots are poisonous if eaten. The symptoms include severe burning and swelling of lips and throat.

The berries of heavenly bamboo are especially toxic to cats, so if you bring them in to use as decoration or in vases, just be sure to pick up the fallen ones daily.

A well-researched list of common poisonous plants is at the North Carolina State University Extension site —

It is a good idea to keep the Poison Control phone number handy (800) 222-1222. When you call, be ready with the name of the plant, the part consumed (leaf or berry), how much was eaten, and the person’s age, weight and physical condition.

The ASPCA has an illustrated list of 445-pet-toxic plants at


Safe, non-toxic plants you may have around the house include: African violet, begonia, Christmas cactus, coleus, dracaena, impatiens, jade, marigold, petunia, rose, spider plant, Swedish ivy, and wandering Jew.