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Ask the Pharmacist: 6 holiday plants that make you sick

Suzy Cohen
Columnist

Many families have young children and pets, and so today’s article is aimed at keeping you safe. Today you’ll find out which holiday plants need to be kept out of reach of children and pets.

Red flowers on Poinsettia plant.

Poinsettia

The poinsettia plant blooms with those stunning big flowers! The flowers aren’t really “flowers,” they’re just leaves that turned a pretty color. Did you know that the plants green leaves provide the color of the bloom you see, based upon the amount of light it gets?  That’s why some varieties have red, white or pink flowers! The sap causes oral irritation, cramps and stomach upset. 

White hellebore flower also known as the Christmas Rose.

The Christmas Rose

Sometimes called Helleborus niger, the “Christmas rose” plant is dangerous to children and dogs due to the content of cardiac glycosides. That term is a drug category that includes the heart drug called digoxin. The plant also contains poisonous “bufadienolides.” Symptoms can be dangerous, and include throat problems, weakness, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach upset and drooling.

Despite their name, Christmas roses aren't related to roses and the flowers don't usually open until after Christmas.
All the hollies native to Florida produce the shiny green leaves and red berries we think of as  "Christmas holly" and prize as part of our holiday decorating.

Holly berries

Boughs of holly offer homeowners some stunning holiday decor options, but the berries are toxic to pets and people. It can cause local irritation in your mouth as well as severe diarrhea, vomiting, dehydration, drowsiness, the jitters and physical weakness. The holly leaves are prickly so those aren’t safe either, but it’s really the berries that are the most harmful because they contain cyanogenic glycosides, as well as another toxin that acts similarly to theophylline.

Christmas trees

If you love the scent of a beautiful living spruce tree, and bring one home for the holidays, I recommend you feed it with plain water. Don’t use the commercial preservatives because most brands can cause stomach upset, nausea, vomiting and eye irritation. Whether or not this causes sensitivity is dependent on what your tree preservative contains. Pathogens like bacteria and fungus will grow in stagnant water so make sure you keep the water fresh.

The white-berried leafy mistletoe we associate with Christmas is just one of more than 1,300 species of mistletoe worldwide.

Mistletoe

The kissing sprig. If you pass beneath the mistletoe, you can get one planted on you! It’s a well-known holiday tradition and symbol of love! American mistletoe (Phoradendron serotinum) is different and safer, compared to its European cousin known botanically as Viscum album. American mistletoe is not toxic like the European variety, but here in the states, it’s come down to guilt by association.

Bulbs

There are many spring blooming bulbs that I had in my house such as daffodil, hyacinth and amaryllis. Some of you bring the bulbs indoors during winter, however these bulbs can be accidentally mistaken for garlic or shallots or eaten by a pet or child. Many are quite poisonous and can induce mouth irritation, vomiting, diarrhea and other symptoms.

Many poisonings can occur during visits because if a family hosts you that isn’t used to either pet or child-proofing their home, they may have decorated their home with these types of plants. It’s important to seek medical advice if you are exposed to one of these plants. The number to the Poison Control Center is 800-222-1222 in case you need it.

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Suzy Cohen is a registered pharmacist. The information presented here is not intended to treat, cure or diagnose any condition. Visit SuzyCohen.com.