Smart Stuff with Twig Walkingstick: Poinsettias Aren't Poisonous (for the Week of Dec. 5, 2004)
Dear Twig: I've heard people say poinsettias are poisonous. True?
No, not true. Poinsettias aren't poisonous. It's a myth, and a false one, that they're killers. They're not.
How do we know? Well, in the early 1970s, scientists at Ohio State, my home, asked the same question you did. They fed poinsettias to laboratory rats. Without any salad dressing, either. The rats survived. They stayed alive. Which, of course, was good for the rats.
Based on that study and on similar, later studies, the Poisindex reference, a book used by poison-control centers, reports that a 50-pound child would have to eat more than 600 poinsettia bracts – the red, white and pink parts that look like petals – to eat as much as the rats ate. And that's a lot of bracts.
Also, scientists at a hospital in Pittsburgh studied 22,000 cases of poinsettia "exposure" – like a baby eating a bract – and found "no significant toxicity" in any of the cases.
Which doesn't mean you can snack on poinsettias. As members of the spurge family, or Euphorbiaceae, all of their parts contain latex, a white, gooey juice, and some people are allergic to it. Eating it may cause vomiting and diarrhea. Touching it may cause a rash or hurt the eyes.
Best to admire but not chomp poinsettias.
P.S. Named for Joel Roberts Poinsett, poinsettia fan/grower, first U.S. ambassador to Mexico.
Dear Editor and Other Readers: Revised version of a column first published Nov. 28, 2001. From "Poinsettia Care in the Home," an Ohio State University Extension fact sheet available at ohioline.osu.edu/hyg-fact/1000/1248.html. The Ohio State study, "Euphorbia Toxicity in Rats" by R. Stone and W. Collins, was in the journal Toxicon, 1971, vol. 9.
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