Dec 7, 2015: How Toxic are Our Holiday Plants?

Ode to the Holiday Flora


Oh Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree,

We question your toxicity.

From cedar, spruce, pine, and fir,

Skin irritation can occur.

Your soft needles of evergreen,

Can stimulate a choking scene.

Oh Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree,

With you, we risk mild injury.


Oh mistletoe, oh mistletoe

Are you our friend or our foe?

Abundant types – so many kinds,

That can affect our hearts and minds.

Bewitching leaves with lush berries

Can make us ill and make us seize.

Oh mistletoe, oh mistletoe,

Into fine netting you should go.


Oh holly bush, oh holly bush,

What poison buttons do you push?

Your prickly leaves are prone to scratch,

When your plump fruit we try to snatch.

Your bright berries can nauseate,

But large ingestions could sedate.

Oh holly bush, oh holly bush

Over your harms, we don’t anguish.


Oh ivy plant, oh ivy plant,

Are you a true intoxicant?

Each slender vine, aptly deceives -

Oxalates hide in heart-shaped leaves.

If of your foliage we should bite,

Intense mouth pain will be our plight.

Oh ivy plant, oh ivy plant,

Your sting acts as a repellant.


Oh Christmas rose, oh Christmas rose,

Are there toxins that you impose?

Evergreen herb with white florets,

From you, we fear cardiac threats.

Our heart rates fall and rhythms change,

And mentally you can derange.

Oh Christmas rose, oh Christmas rose,

Our trepidation of you grows.


Oh poinsettia, oh poinsettia,

What’s your poisoning vendetta?

A Christmas star with big red blooms

“Very toxic” – this world assumes.

In truth, effects from you are rare.

At most you are a nausea scare.

Oh poinsettia, oh poinsettia,

Safe plant for our arboreta.



Christmas cactus, Christmas cactus,

What cruel harms do you practice?

Each holiday your beauty shines.

Amazingly, you have no spines.

And without spines, you will not prick,

Nor will your splendor make us sick.

Christmas cactus, Christmas cactus

Your harmlessness does attract us.


Oh holidays, oh holidays,

We enjoy your floral displays.

But the brilliance your plants parade,

Blinds us to their toxic crusade.

Constant caution often prevents

Exposures and their detriments.

Oh holidays, oh holidays,

Your flora will forever amaze.




The holidays have arrived.  Along with the hustle and bustle of the season, come the displays of the seasonal foliage.  How toxic are our holiday plants?  Here are our insights on this topic:


Christmas trees may cause dermal irritation or mechanical injury if ingested.


Mistletoe, a semi-parasitic plant, has numerous variations.  Some varieties can be cardiotoxic and/or neurotoxic.  GI upset is often associated with the most common variety, Phoradendron, in the USA.   Wrapping fresh mistletoe in fine netting will prevent droppings from falling to the ground and being ingested.


American holly may cause minor GI symptoms in small ingestions.  Large ingestions could cause mild drowsiness.


Ivy contains calcium oxalate crystals.  Oxalates cause such severe oral irritation when bitten that ingestion of even small quantities is difficult.


Christmas roses contain cardiac glycosides that lead to digitalis-like effects when ingested.  Some forms can also cause delirium and seizures.


Poinsettia, contrary to popular perceptions, is not a poisonous plant.  Small ingestions rarely cause symptoms.  Large ingestions might cause GI upset.


Christmas cactus, a tropical cactus with no spines, is non-poisonous and produces no symptoms.


And there you have it.


Happy Holidays to All!!!


This question prepared by:  Cheri Wessels, CSPI  (Certified Specialist in Poison Information)


I am interested in any questions you would like answered in the Question of the Week.  Please email me with any suggestion at


Donna Seger, MD

Medical Director

Tennessee Poison Center

Poison Help Hotline: 1-800-222-1222