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The myth that Euphorbia pulcherrima plants, or poinsettias, are poisonous dates back to the early 1900s. Since then, concerned friends and family members have traded letters, emails, and gossip about the dangers of children and pets consuming poinsettia leaves. The myth that poinsettias are poisonous gains momentum around Christmas and other winter holidays, when shops begin to display poinsettias. On the other hand, it is true that eating poinsettias can cause stomach upset and that touching the sap of the plant can result in an itchy rash. The same is true for many other decorative plants that should not be eaten, though.
Around 1919, it was reported that a 2-year-old child consumed poinsettia leaves and died. In modern times, this report is now believed to be incorrect, because it would take hundreds of poinsettia leaves to kill a small child. In fact, researchers estimate that a 50-pound (23-kg) child would have to eat about 500 to 600 leaves for doctors to even consider the thought of a toxic overdose. Toddlers generally do not weigh as much, but they would still have to consume multiple plants, presumably without supervision. Therefore, while it is not a good idea to let children and pets eat inedible plants, the chances of either dying as a result of the plant is little to none.
The belief that poinsettias are poisonous usually gains traction around winter holidays, when the plant is most often put on display and purchased as decoration. A legend states that the plant was given to a church by a young girl who could not afford to purchase a gift for Jesus’ birth. According to the legend, she was instructed by an angel to gather weeds that, when placed on an alter, magically grew into poinsettias. Thus began the plant’s association with Christmas. Many people also believe the color of the plant and its five-star pointed leaves are symbolic of the blood of Jesus or the Christmas star, respectively.
While the myth that poinsettias are poisonous is not true, they are not edible either. Eating poinsettia leaves can cause stomach upset, but experts generally believe that a person needs to consume a lot of leaves before this occurs. In addition, like many other plant saps, coming into contact with poinsettia sap can cause irritation. Poinsettia sap also has the potential to cause temporary blindness if rubbed into a person’s eyes. These reactions are not indicative of poisoning, simply reactions from eating inedible plants and touching irritating sap.
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