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Amaryllis, mistletoe have toxic elements; poinsettia safe

The Grand Island Independent - 12/10/2017

The holiday season is upon us. The cookies are baked, the decorations are up, and holiday plants are blooming with all of their glory.

But some of our favorite holiday plants have a potentially dangerous side and can do more than just add color to our homes.

Amaryllis is near the top of the list for forgotten poisonous holiday plants. These plants are among the most poisonous brought into the home during the holiday season.

Amaryllis are often sold as large bulbs. Once these bulbs are watered, they produce long, strap-like leaves and a flower stalk containing brightly-colored, trumpet-shaped flowers.

The toxic chemical that these plants contain is called alkaloid lycorine, which is an irritant to the gastrointestinal tract. The most toxic part of these plants is the bulb. The other parts of the plants can also be toxic if eaten in large quantities.

Kissing under the mistletoe sounds like an innocent enough holiday ritual. Real mistletoe is a common holiday plant that is sold dried in small packages to be hung in homes. The plant has thick, leathery, green leaves and white berries. The plant itself is parasite-like and feeds off of other trees.

With some species, eating a few of the berries would produce mild gastroenteritis, acute diarrhea and vomiting. All parts of the plant are considered to be toxic.

Want to rethink kissing under a poisonous, parasitic plant?

Another holiday plant, the poinsettia, gets a bad reputation for being extremely poisonous. According to research, they are not considered poisonous.

The POISINDEX, the primary resource used by most poison control centers, notes that a 50-pound child would have to eat more than 1 1/4 pounds of colored poinsettia bracts, about 500 to 600, to exceed the experimental dose.

There would probably be some stomach upset or vomiting if a few bracts were eaten, but it is not considered toxic. The milky sap from the poinsettia can be a skin irritant and cause a rash in sensitive people.

Looking for some completely safe holiday plants? The Christmas cactus and kalanchoe are two plants that are deemed non-poisonous by the Nebraska Regional Poison Center.

The Christmas cactus has flat, fleshy stems that resemble leaf-like pads and are joined together in a chain-like pattern. The flowers are usually held at the tips of the stems. or in the "leaf" axils, and are usually pink to red.

The kalanchoe has semi-fleshy leaves and flowers that are held in umbels above the leaves. The flowers come in a wide range of colors, including yellow, orange, red and pink.

Another safe holiday plant is the Norfolk Island pine. This houseplant has evergreen needles and a fun, umbrella-like structure. The worst thing that could happen with a Norfolk Island pine is getting poked by one of its needles.

Elizabeth Killinger is the Hall County Extension educator in horticulture. For more information, contact her at elizabeth.killinger@unl.edu.


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