Poinsettia Fact and Fiction

Poinsettias are posionous, right?

This is one of those beliefs that is so widespread that a survey of florists found that most of them believed it to be true. That’s because it has been the conventional understanding about poinsettias for many years. The consensus of government agencies, health centers, veterinary groups, and plant and flower organizations that we’ve surveyed, however, is that poinsettias are not toxic and do not pose a health threat to children or pets.

The belief in poinsettia poison appears to extend back to 1919 when the two-year-old child of a U.S. Army officer died. It was believed that the death was caused by the child ingesting poinsettia leaves. The American Society of Florists has looked into the matter extensively and says there was never any proof that poinsettia leaves were responsible for the child’s death and the report was later determined to be hearsay.

The America Society of Florists joined with researchers at Ohio State University to test various parts of the poinsettia plant on rats. Their conclusion was that there was no toxicity or any other side effects even when the rats were given large doses.

POISENDEX is the source of poison information for the majority of poison control centers. It says that a 50-pound child would have to eat more than a pound-and-a-quarter of poinsettia leaves to exceed the doses used in the Ohio State research, which would be 500 to 600 leaves.

The American Society of Florists says no other consumer plant has been tested for toxicity more than the poinsettia.

The ASPCA Animal Poison Center in Urbana, Illinois says it regards poinsettias as having such low toxicity risk that it doesn’t even recommend decontaminating animals that may have ingested them. The center says that there can sometimes be gastrointestinal distress from having ingested something alien to the digestive system.

The American Veterinary Medicine Association of America (AVMA), doesn’t include poinsettias on its list of plants that are a threat to animals.

Because of the belief that poinsettias are toxic, there are numerous visits to hospitals each year by concerned parents or pet owners whose children or pet have ingested or in some other way been exposed to poinsettias.

A study released in 2000 by Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University found that out of nearly 23,000 poinsettia exposures reported to poison control centers nationwide, there was essentially no toxicity of significance of any kind.

How to Choose your Poinsettia

Choose a plant with dark green foliage down to the soil line.
Choose bracts (modified leaves) that are completely colored.
Do not purchase poinsettias with a lot of green around the bract edges.
Do not choose plants with fallen or yellowed leaves.
The poinsettia should look full, balanced and attractive from all sides.
The plant should be 2 1/2 times taller than the diameter of the container.
Choose plants that are not drooping or wilting.
Do not purchase plants that are displayed in paper or plastic sleeves.
Plants held in sleeves will deteriorate quickly.
Do not purchase plants that have been displayed or crowded close together.
Crowding can cause premature bract loss.
Check the plant’s soil. If it’s wet and the plant is wilted, this could be an indication of root rot. Check the poinsettia’s maturity.
Check the true flowers which are located at the base of the colored bracts.
If the flowers are green or red-tipped and fresh looking the bloom will “hold” longer than if yellow pollen is covering the flowers.
When you take the poinsettia home, be sure to have it sleeved or covered when outdoor temperatures are below 50�F.

How to Care for your Poinsettia

After you have made your poinsettia selection, make sure it is wrapped properly because exposure to low temperatures even for a few minutes can damage the bracts and leaves. Unwrap your poinsettia carefully and place in a sunny window. Keep the plant from touching cold windows. Keep poinsettias away from warm or cold drafts from radiators, air registers or open doors and windows. Ideally poinsettias require daytime temperatures of 60 to 70�F and night time temperatures around 55�F. High temperatures will shorten the plant’s life. Move the plant to a cooler room at night, if possible. Check the soil daily. Be sure to punch holes in foil so water can drain into a saucer. Water when soil is dry. Allow water to drain into the saucer and discard excess water.
Fertilize the poinsettia if you keep it past the holiday season.

Submitted by: Julie Vernell