Myths and rumors about the toxicity of the poinsettia plant are common late in the year, when the popular red-leaved plants take center stage in holiday decorations. While the genus (Euphorbia) to which the poinsettia plant belongs does contain some highly toxic plants, the popular poinsettia itself is not toxic. Some sources attribute the rumor about the dangers of poinsettia leaves to a case of poisoning in 1919 that led to the death of a two year-old child. At the time, the cause of the poisoning was incorrectly determined to be a poinsettia leaf.
According to the POISINDEX information source - the primary resource used by the majority of poison control centers nationwide - a child who weighed 50 lbs. would have to eat over 500 poinsettia leaves to reach an even potentially toxic dose of compounds in the poinsettia plant. Doctors at the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh Poison Center conducted a review of 22,793 reported cases of poinsettia exposures, the majority (93%) of which occurred in children, and found that 92% of those exposed did not develop any symptoms at all. Ninety-six per cent of those exposed were not even treated in a health care facility. Furthermore, no deaths resulting from poinsettia ingestion have ever been documented.
Even though accidental ingestion of poinsettia leaves will not damage your body or kill you, it may lead to nausea and vomiting in some cases. Since the taste of poinsettia leaves is reportedly very unpleasant, it is unlikely that a child or animal who attempts to eat or chew the leaves will continue to do so after the first taste. While ingestion of house plants is never a good idea (some popular plants can be extremely dangerous when eaten) parents of young children can be assured that the poinsettia plant is not a dangerous risk in the home.
Medically reviewed by John A. Daller, MD; American Board of Surgery with subspecialty certification in surgical critical care
Krenzelok, EP, Jacobsen, TD, Aronis, JM. Poinsettia exposures have good outcomes...just as we thought. Am J Emerg Med 1996; 14:671.
Previous contributing editor: Dennis Lee, MD