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In the pre-Christmas period, the poinsettia is the classic among plants and, with good care, lasts far beyond that. But as popular as it is, some plant lovers are skeptical about it because it is said to be poisonous. There are many statements circulating on the Internet that range from no to high toxicity. But what is true? The plant experts from got to the bottom of this and explain how poisonous the poinsettia is.


Does the poinsettia have toxic substances?

The question can be answered with a resounding yes. The Christmas star, also known as poinsettia or Christmas star, is one of the spurge plants in which a milky sap, the so-called latex, is often present. Some plants from the plant family need this to close wounds and to ward off predators - as does the botanically named Euphorbia pulcherrima. The latex contains the toxic substance diterpenes from the terpene group.

How poisonous is Euphorbia pulcherrima?

This question is not easy to answer, since a distinction must be made between specially bred poinsettia hybrids and "wild" poinsettias.

Christstern hybrid varieties

In these breeds is from a low to assume toxicity. They contain only small amounts of the toxic substance, so that even the information center against poisoning classified them as only slightly toxic. Nevertheless, they can cause symptoms of poisoning in children and especially in a baby, as well as in dogs and cats.

wild plants

In contrast to commercially available hybrids, poinsettias that have grown in the wild contain significantly higher doses of the toxic substance diterpenes. For this reason, a much higher level of toxicity can be assumed for these, which can lead to health reactions due to poisoning not only in babies, small children and pets, but also in adults.

Attention when buying

As a rule, it can be assumed that no wild forms of the poinsettia are offered for sale by dealers and in nurseries. However, there is no guarantee for this and wild forms can also be found among them. If you have children, dogs or cats living in your household, you should definitely ask the retailer what type of poinsettia the desired plant is before you buy it. Only in this way can you be certain about the degree of toxicity and accordingly decide to buy or reject it for safety reasons.

recognize wild form

Do you already have a poinsettia at home and are unsure whether it is a wild form or a hybrid variety? If you remember where you bought it, you can ask there whether wild forms were/are sold.
Visually, wild poinsettias are difficult to distinguish from hybrids when they are cultivated in a pot and used as a houseplant.

Pots can limit the growth of the plants, so that a typical feature of the meter-high growth of wild forms is not expressed. A bushy growth could indicate a wild form of the poinsettia. If you have a slender, small specimen in a color other than red or a standard, it is usually a hybrid species. If in doubt, you can show your poinsettia to an experienced nursery. Here, experts can carry out an identification based on the finest differences.

Where is the poison?

The most toxic plant parts are the leaves and especially the stems. If you break one, you can usually see with the naked eye how the milky juice collects on the wound. The blossoms usually have no to minimal amounts of poison. Nevertheless, caution is also required here, because in principle all parts of the plant of Euphorbia pulcherrima are more or less poisonous.

signs of intoxication

Although most houseplants of the hybrid varieties are only classified as slightly poisonous, various symptoms of poisoning can occur in certain risk groups. Symptoms of poisoning from contact/consumption of parts of a wild plant can be the same, but are much more severe depending on the amount. Adults can also be affected.

babies and children

In any case, babies and children up to the age of ten are particularly susceptible to symptoms of poisoning. If they nibble on parts of plants or even eat them, the following reactions can occur:

  • Skin irritation even when in contact with plants
  • nausea or vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • stomach pain

First aid

"First aid" is most effective the faster you react after seeing or suspecting contact/consumption and not waiting until the first symptoms appear.

  • You should therefore initiate the following measures quickly:
    In the event of skin contact, immediately rinse affected skin areas vigorously
  • In the event of contact with the mouth, rinse the mouth briefly but intensively several times.
  • Bend baby over face down and rinse mouth with syringe or similar
  • Don't forget to wash your lips
  • In any case, after or during rinsing, consult the (pediatric) doctor or the Poison Control Center for advice
  • For consumed plant parts
    • never induce vomiting
    • The younger the child, the more advisable it is to consult a doctor immediately
    • Administer charcoal tablets to bind the poison in the intestine

dogs and cats

Similar to children, contact with the sap of a Euphorbia pulcherrima can also affect pets. In principle, the following also applies here: the younger/smaller they are, the higher the risk of poisoning reactions of the body, although no acute or severe symptoms of poisoning can be assumed when eating regular cultivated poinsettias. However, there is an increased and possibly life-threatening risk in particularly small puppies/kittens and sick, immunocompromised animals. Symptoms usually show up within two hours of exposure to the plant toxin from a poinsettia.
Typical signs of poisoning in a dog or cat may include:

  • Increased salivation
  • Vomit
  • Uncoordinated movements (staggering)
  • Nonstop panting
  • apathy
  • diarrhea
  • Blood in the urine and/or bowel movements
  • skin redness
  • Clearly striking enlargement of the pupils

First aid

  • In the event of skin contact, wash affected dogs thoroughly with neutral soap or a dog shampoo
  • If eaten, provoke vomiting - dissolve a tablespoon of salt in a tablespoon of water and give it down your throat
  • Can be repeated up to twice
  • If there is no vomiting, inform the veterinarian
  • Pouring plenty of water - often poisoned animals refuse to drink and have to be forced
  • Do not give milk - this ensures that the poison gets into the bloodstream faster
  • Administer charcoal tablets to bind the swallowed poison
  • Alternatively, a laxative can be given to expel the poison quickly

notice: Please note that this article is by no means a substitute for a doctor's visit. There is no guarantee of the correctness of medical statements.
Detailed information on first aid in the event of poisoning and important information on the poison control centers can be found here.

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