Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Toxicology Tuesday, December 18

Holiday decorating involves many seasonal plants. This week, see how many of these Christmas plants you can identify, and more importantly, if you know whether they are

Toxic or Not?







[Bonus points if you can rate them in order, most toxic to least.]

A. Christmas Cactus - Nontoxic
B. *Mistletoe - Toxic
C. Poinsettia - Nontoxic
D. Norfolk Island Pine - Nontoxic
E. Holly - Toxic
F. I didn't know for sure, so I asked you! I thought this was some kind of juniper species, and most of you agreed. If we are right, then as far as I can tell, it is nontoxic to our pets.

And now, for the bonus round:
is the most toxic plant in today's post. All plant parts are considered poisonous, but especially the berries. It can cause severe gastroenteritis (vomiting and diarrhea), a decrease in heart rate and blood pressure, difficulty breathing, erratic behavior (hallucinations in people), seizures, coma, or even death. Holly is the second most toxic plant, primarily causing a severe, self-limiting gastroenteritis if a pet eats the berries. (I saw this once in a puppy, but it is not very common.)

As for the poinsettia, it has gotten a bum rap over the years. Urban legend has the poor poinsettia plant rated someplace between bubonic plague and nuclear war in its severity. In truth, it is basically nontoxic. A pet who ate an entire plant may experience significant vomiting and diarrhea, and it is possible that
an ultra-sensitive individual might develop a mild skin rash from contact with its milky-white sap, but that is all. So, feel free to bring this lovely plant into your home and don't panic if Fido or Fluffy try a little taste.

*[Thanks to the US Forestry web site for the photo of mistletoe.]

Since the next two Tuesdays are Christmas Day and New Year's Day, Toxicology Tuesday is going on hiatus for the holiday season. It will be back in 2008.

Happy Holidays!


ncmountainwoman said...

I'm not even sure I identified the plants correctly, but here goes, ranked from most toxic to least.

1.) Christmas cactus
2.) Mistletoe; stems more toxic than berries. Given #2 spot because toxicity varies with type of tree it grows on. Pretty toxic if it grows on hemlock.
3.) Holly; toxic berries

Not very toxic:
4.) Norfolk Island pine
5.) Juniper

Very mildly toxic/non-toxic:
6.) Poinsettia

My grandmother used to make tea from juniper berries to soothe an upset stomach.

Julie Zickefoose said...

1, Christmas cactus, nonpoisonous? Dunno.
2.Mistletoe, waaay poisonous. Probably the worst of the lot.
3. Poinsettia, poisonous.
4. Norfolk Island Pine, nonpoisonous.
5. Japanese Holly, mildly vomitorious.Or vomitocious. Or vomitaceous.
6. Juniperus sp. (looks like western Red Cedar), nonpoisonous. used to flavor gin!

Those are my guesses. I thought it would defeat the purpose to look anything up. Probably wrong on a couple of 'em.

Science Chimp

holly said...

I think I know that mistletoe is and pointsettia isn't. The rest...I dunno and it's been a long day. And I still have to make coconut flan for Ethan's Spanish party tomorrow (why don't my kids ever pick the salsa or paper plates to bring???)

Kathy said...

My best guesses, trying to do research just got me more confused!

A. Christmas Cactus, 3rd most toxic
B. Mistletoe, most toxic
C. Poinsettia, 4th most toxic
D. Norfolk Island Pine, least toxic
E. Holly, 2nd most toxic
F. Juniper, 5th most toxic

Sorry you got stuck with the hard thing to make for the party Holly! Salsa is definitely more my speed, too.

littleorangeguy said...

Juniper is deadly bad if your cat or dog has one too many martinis.
I think that poinsettia, mistletoe, and holly are the true villains here, though.

holly said...

Kathy, it turned out the be the easiest thing I've ever made for the Spanish parties!! (year 1, a whole roasted, herbed chicken, 2 Spanish bread from scratch, 3 Chicken mole' and rice. I asked my sons 'Do you guys frantically volunteer me for *all* the cooking??" Actually, I love to cook and have found some good stuff from their classes. I always tell them, I hope I get a good grade on it, lol.

Flan, easiest thing to make ever. Coconut milk, salt, sugar, cornstarch. Made a 'gravy' out of all those on the stove, poured it in a baking pan and let it chill overnight. This morning, sprinkle of cinnamon and it was off on the bus with Ethan. I'd like to make it for us with maybe some caramel drizzled over the top (someone told me it's really good like that). I just dread cooking with new recipes when I'm making it for something like that. Always afraid I'll find out at 1am that I've messed it up and the poor neglected child will have to tell his teacher his mom didn't send anything in....lol.

Kathy said...

Holly, I'm glad it worked out for you. I've had bad experiences with new recipes. One time we were having guests for dinner when I tried a new recipe, and I thought we'd never eat dinner because the brown rice took forever to cook.

Kathi, generally speaking is the aspca poison control the best web site to get answers to toxic plants?

holly said...

Oh yeah...brown rice (she says flatly). BTDT. I thought it would cook up like white rice....

I found out today that the baking was an extra credit project - for the STUDENT. As in, they were supposed to do the cooking. He 'forgot' to tell me that the other night I think I was had.

KatDoc said...


I use a lot of different sources for toxic plants, starting with a toxicology text book I have and a bunch of different lists I have collected over the years. The ASPCA's web site is a good one, and Wikipedia has had some very helpful information. When I do a web search, I look for university sites - Purdue, Cornell, Illinois are three I have used.

I avoid "layperson" web sites, as I have found a lot of misinformation, disinformation and just plain bad information in them.

You will often find conflicting info even in the "approved" sites, so it can be hard to get the right answers when it comes to toxic plants.

BUT: The biggest problem in answering the common question, "Is the plant my pet just ate toxic?" is in getting the proper plant ID. In an up-coming post on toxic houseplants, I will illustrate this point.


You didn't raise no dumb kids!


Kathy said...

Thank you Kathi. Several places said Christmas cactus was toxic, but my first thought was non toxic. Before Monday, I wouldn't have even been able to identify the Norfolk pine. My "secret sister" at church gave me one, complete with decorations.

Holly, aren't kids fun? That sounds like something my daughter would have pulled on me. Well, I followed the chicken and brown rice recipe to the letter, but for some reason it took more than a hour longer to bake than they said. I never tried that recipe again!