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Poinsettia Plant Irritating but Not Fatal

The Bottom Line

The poinsettia plant is often considered deadly. That's wrong. Poinsettia can be irritating but it is not fatal if eaten. If children and pets eat it, they can develop a mouth rash and stomach upset. The sap can cause a skin rash, too.

The Full Story

The poinsettia is well known for its bright red and green colors. It is a very common household plant, especially around the winter holidays. The plant was first discovered in Mexico and brought into the United States by the first minister to Mexico, Dr. Joel Poinsett.

This festive plant is not deadly, but some stories just won't go away.  Over a hundred years ago, a child was found next to a wild poinsettia plant. He died and people blamed the plant. This hasn't happened since. Researchers even tried to find out what the poisonous dose of poinsettia might be and they just couldn't, even after reaching experimental doses of about 1.25 pounds (500-600 leaves). The plant does not have dangerous effects when eaten.

In most cases, exposure to any parts of the poinsettia plant in children or pets has very little if any effect. If swallowed, it may cause mild irritation: nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea. Touching it may cause a rash. There have been reports of gardeners who work with the plant frequently developing a rash from handling the plant.

So, you don't have to completely eliminate the plant from your home. After all, it makes for a great holiday décor. But you still should prevent your child or pet from swallowing it by storing it out of their reach. It can pose a choking hazard. And, it is always nice to avoid having to deal with nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or a skin rash.  

Rose Ann Gould Soloway, RN, BSN, MSEd, DABAT emerita
Clinical Toxicologist

Serkalem Mekonnen, RN, BSN, MPH
Certified Specialist in Poison Information

For More Information

Poisonous and Non-Poisonous Plants: An Illustrated List 

For Pets: American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) - Poisonous Plants


Evens Z, Stellpflug S. Holiday plants with toxic misconceptions. Western Journal of Emergency Medicine. 2012 Dec;13(6):538-542.

Winek CL, Butala J, Shanor SP, et al. Toxicology of poinsettia. Clin Toxicol. 1978;13:27-45.


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Prevention Tips

  • Place poinsettias where children and pets can't reach them.
  • Put other houseplants out of reach, too. Even if they're not dangerous, they could cause choking if children or pets take a bite.

This Really Happened

On Christmas Day, a 10-month-old child put a small piece of a leaf from a poinsettia plant in his mouth. His mother was concerned and called Poison Control for advice. The poison specialist reassured the mother that no problems were expected. The mom was advised to simply wipe the child’s mouth and to give him something to drink.