Published on 11/30/09

Holiday plants best for looking pretty, not eating

By Stephanie Schupska

University of Georgia horticulturalist Paul Thomas can’t think of any common gift plants that are necessarily poisonous -- most of the poisonous plants are those cut for Christmas decorations. He can, however, think of one that will light a child’s or pet’s mouth on fire.

Ornamental peppers sold around the holidays come in merry white and Christmas red. And these, he said, are usually bred from some of the hottest peppers on the market.

“They can be, and often are, flaming, wish-you-were-dead hot,” Thomas said.

Peppers can add interest to a table or garden area. But, anyone who has children should purchase them with caution.

“Keep in mind, if you decided to go with ornamental peppers, that they’re not going to kill a child, but you’re going to have a very unhappy baby or child if they eat them,” Thomas said. “They’re not going to understand they bit into a hot pepper. They’re just going to panic.”

The best solution, as with any plant, is to keep them out of the reach of children.

Poisonous plants

Parents and others who may have children over for the holidays should watch out for a few plants commonly used as decoration that are poisonous. These include amaryllis, calla lilies, English ivy, mistletoe, holly, juniper, lantana and yew, according to the UGA Extension publication “Poisonous Plants in the Landscape” (

Poisonous parts include:
• Amaryllis – the bulbs and seeds
• Calla lily – all parts
• English ivy – leaves, stem and fruit
• Holly – berries
• Juniper – berry-like seeds
• Lantana – fruit
• Mistletoe – berries
• Yew – berries and foliage

“The term poisonous does not imply that the plant is fatal,” said Gary Wade, a UGA Extension horticulturist. “Some plants may be only mildly toxic and may cause stomach ache or mild irritation of the mouth and throat when ingested.”

Prevention is the best medicine when it comes to poison, he said. Keep an eye on what children, especially babies, are chewing on, and keep them away from plants.

In case of a poison emergency or to get poison information, always keep the Georgia Poison Center number near your telephone. They can be contacted at (800) 222-1222 or (404) 616-9000. For general information, visit

If a poisoning occurs and the person is having trouble breathing, experiencing seizures or won’t wake up, call 9-1-1 immediately.

Pretty poinsettias

Poinsettias, despite their reputation, aren’t poisonous, Thomas said.

“They won’t even make a cat, dog or a child sick if they do eat a leaf or get sap on their skin,” Thomas said.

Some people will itch when they come in contact with poinsettias. This is because they’re having an allergic reaction to the latex found in the plants.

Poinsettia sap can be irritating if it gets in the eyes or on sensitive skin. If this happens, wash the affected area immediately with water.

Stephanie Schupska is the communications coordinator with the University of Georgia Honors College.

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