Are Poinsettia Plants Poisonous? Fact or Fiction?

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

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

REFERENCE:

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


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Reviewed on 12/2/2016

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