Todays update is another trek down the path of things we assume, but may not really know about. I threw this together, when I did a little reading about that Holiday plant we all know and love, the Poinsettia...
The story goes like this: The perennial holiday favorite, the poinsettia, is a deadly plant fit only to look at. One bite of its lovely leaf and the unlucky eater of it will succumb to a hideous, excruciating death.
Well... something like that.
70 percent of people polled were certain the poinsettia is poisonous, anyway. But, as it turns out, this is just another urban myth.
The Poinsettia, [i](Euphorbia pulcherrima[/i]), is a species of flowering plant indigenous to Mexico and Central America. It's name is derived from one Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first United States Minister to Mexico. The good minister introduced the plant into the US in 1828, where it was hitherto unknown. It's connection to Christmas comes from a 16th Century Mexican tradition; in Mexico it is called "Noche Buena," the Christmas Eve Plant.
But the tale of it's lethality started back in the early 20th century when the young child of a U.S. Army officer was thought to have died from eating a
poinsettia leaf -- a story which was later retracted. But, as these things have a habit of doing, the toxic nature of the poinsettia took on a life of its own.
After all, who needs the truth when a good story is to be had?
But you urban pundits take note: According to the American Medical Association, ingesting poinsettia produces little to no ill effect. It may be mildly irritating to the skin or stomach and may sometimes cause diarrhea and vomiting if eaten. But you can say that about most of the plants and bushes in your own front yard.
Many other experts take sides with the plant, too.
- An American Journal of Emergency Medicine study of 22,793 cases showed no fatalities, and furthermore that a strong majority of poinsettia exposures are accidental, involve children, and usually do not result in any type of medical treatment at all.
- POISINDEX, a major source for poison control data, says a 50 lb child would have to eat 500 bracts (leaves) to have any kind of reaction at all.
- The Society of American Florists has also weighed in. They worked with Ohio State University to thoroughly test all parts of the poinsettia and concluded there are no adverse effects, even in large doses.
- In 1975, the United States Consumer Product's Safety Commission denied the requirement for warning labels for poinsettia plants.
As for your pets, the American Veterinary Medicine Association of America does not include poinsettias on its list of plants that are a threat to animals. The ASPCA likewise states that ingestion of poinsettias may cause mild gastrointestinal tract irritation, including drooling, vomiting, and/or diarrhea -- but nothing severe or fatal.
Mistletoe, another holiday favorite, is not so innocent. Mistletoe can do more than inspire the lovelorn to smooch beneath it. This parasitic plant, found in hardwood trees, can cause gastrointestinal distress, a slowed heartbeat, and other reactions if ingested. It's primary chemical constituents are known as 'viscotoxins' and although not thought to be generally fatal, it can cause severe reactions in humans.
In pets, mistletoe may cause gastrointestinal disorders, cardiovascular collapse, dyspnea, bradycardia, erratic behavior, vomiting, diarrhea, and low blood pressure. Yikes!
So the Poinsettia gets a bum rap... who knew? Because it is in the spurge family of plants, those sensitive to latex may suffer an allergic reaction to it. But overall, the old standby holiday decoration is pretty benign and can be enjoyed without much worry. So, make sure the mistletoe stays tightly fastened above your door, but fear the poinsettia no more.