According to polls taken in the U.S. many people still believe in an enduring myth that one of the most recognizable symbols of Christmas, the poinsettia, is a toxic plant.
The Bruskin/Goldring Research firm polled 1000 Americans. Fifty percent of those polled said they believed that poinsettias were poisonous. 34 percent said they didn’t know, and only 16 percent said they knew that poinsettias were not poisonous.
How does such misinformation spread? Of the people who believed that poinsettias were toxic, 43 percent said they learned it by “word of mouth.” The infamous word of mouth has been responsible for more rumours and misguided information through the years than perhaps any other source. This is how the “urban myth” begins.
The urban myth as it relates to the poinsettia goes back almost 90 years. The story is that an American Army officer’s two year old child died after eating a poinsettia leaf. Despite numerous studies to the contrary, the story still persists to this day.
Incidentally, 37 percent of people who believed in poisonous poinsettias said that their source of this information was the media!
According to POISINDEX, the organization which measures the toxicity of thousands of substances, a 50-pound child would have to eat more than 1.25 pounds of poinsettia bracts and leaves (500-600) to exceed experimental doses that did not detect any levels of toxicity.
Now, I know of curious children that are leaf eaters, and I once found my then two year old daughter with compost on her lips and a smile on her face, but there is no way that a child is going to eat 600 poinsettia leaves at one sitting. And even if they do, that many leaves aren’t toxic anyway.
Of course, common sense should dictate that it’s not necessarily a good idea to snack on poinsettias leaves over the holiday season. Goodness knows there will be enough to snack on over the next month. For a small child or a pet, ingesting poinsettia leaves is likely to cause an upset stomach, or even vomiting, so keep an eye on your plants, pets or kids, or better yet, put the plant in a location where it can’t be reached.
So enjoy your poinsettia this Christmas. They are not toxic, never have been and there is no truth to the rumour that they are. But, did you hear the one of scorpions hatching out of the cactus in someone’s living room?