ASK THE HORT AGENT
Question Are poinsettia flowers poisonous?
Answer No, poinsettias are not poisonous if eaten in small or moderate amounts. They could be poisonous if a person ate over 2 pounds of leaves (over 800 leaves). Of course, 2 pounds of collards, lettuce or spinach may also cause a problem if consumed at one meal. According to Ohio research, a 50 lb child would have to eat 1.25 pounds of leaves to exceed the doses used on the lab rats. By the way, the researchers at “The” Ohio State University said no rats were harmed in this particular experiment. http://www.ag.ohio-state.edu/~news/story.php?id=2763
While it appears the Grinch or Scrooge started this rumor, we do not know for sure. The connection between poison and poinsettia surfaced when a two year old child of an Army officer died in 1919. The American Society of Florists later determined the link between the child’s death and poinsettia consumption was merely rumor. I’m sure these rumor mongers were visited by Krampus instead of Santa Claus.
Most polls show 50% of Americans believe that poinsettias are poisonous. Unfortunately, this beautiful flower has to bear the burden of a false accusation. http://www.snopes.com/holidays/christmas/poinsettia.asp
Poinsettias exude latex when broken. This substance can cause skin irritation. The latex sap serves two purposes. It hardens to “stop the bleeding.” It also discourages animals from feeding. Most plants containing latex sap are said to taste bad. The presence of latex sap doesn’t exclusively prove the plant is poisonous. Figs and sweet potatoes also exude latex sap when injured.
Since poinsettias were introduced in the United States from Mexico by Joel Robert Poinsett in 1825 (the US Ambassador to Mexico and later a Colonel in the Confederate Army), their popularity has blossomed steadily. The reindeer and jolly old Santa Claus combination were introduced in 1863 in Harpers Weekly Magazine. Prior to 1863, Santa was known as Saint Nicholas who was thought to be a rather thin elf without reindeer. So actually poinsettias have been a Christmas tradition longer than Santa Claus.
If you have any questions about poinsettia care, then check out http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/hil/pdf/hil-8508.pdf If you do not have internet access, then call 893-7530 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org
The existence of Rudolph, Santa and Whoville are questionable. Astronomers now say Jesus may have been born in June, not December. http://www.news.com.au/couriermail/story/0,23739,24767456-5013016,00.html But you’ve got to believe me, poinsettias are NOT poisonous. They just taste bad.
Gary L. Pierce
Horticulture Extension Agent