By Dawn Pettinelli
UConn Home & Garden Education Center
As we decorate our homes for the holidays with cheery plants, evergreen boughs and berries, it is important to take into account which plants and materials might be toxic to young children and pets. Many plants can pose serious threats to the curious two year old or inquisitive dog, cat or bird.
According to Botanic Gardens Conservation International, there are approximately 400,000 known species of plants inhabiting the earth. Of these, only about 700 species found in this hemisphere are know to cause loss of life or serious illness in man or animals. The toxicity of many new, exotic houseplants and garden plants is not as of yet known. Also be aware that even ‘safe’ plants may cause problems as the plant or soil may be contaminated with pesticides and/or growth regulators. If your household contains young children or curious pets, you may want to consider purchasing plants from an organic grower or placing them out of reach.
Not all plants listed on poisonous plant lists are fatal. Plants are labeled as poisonous if they cause any kind of problem to humans, farm animals or pets. Some are extremely toxic. For example, two oleander leaves will prove fatal to an adult. Other plants may just cause minor skin irritations.Most toxic plants are bitter to the taste or irritate the mouth so generally the animal or person stops eating or chewing on it long before enough is consumed to cause any toxic effects.
Let us look at some common holiday plant materials and their toxicity. First, let me dismiss the rumor concerning poinsettias. They are not the deadly plants they have been made out to be. However, they do contain a white, latex-like sap. Some people are allergic to this sap and a contact dermatitis may result. If eaten, they may cause injury to the digestive track.