It seems appropriate to start December with a slightly festive post and a commonly asked question. Are poinsettias poisonous?
It is relevant because they are the most popular of all Christmas potplants. I am decreasingly festive as I age, rather like an old, artificial, silver tinsel, Christmas tree that has been in and out of its box just too many times. But the one thing that gets me in the mood and wanting to make mince pies is a colourful poinsettia in the house. It is a passing phase and my fascination with them does not linger. I have no desire to keep mine for years and it is almost a relief when the last bracts drop and I can turn my attention to something else but. for a few months, poinsettias are welcome and appreciated.
The question of toxicity arises because poinsettias are euphorbias (Euphorbia pulcherrima – the beautiful euphorbia) and all euphorbias have milky sap that is often irritant and sometimes very toxic and harmful (as in E. tirucalli which I have and am wary of because it can cause severe skin irritation). But the poinsettia is not as harmful as most other euphorbias and is unlikely to cause anything more than mild stomach upset even if ingested. It is unlikely to be eaten by pets or children and even then it is unlikely to be harmful. Of course I dare not say that it is harmless and the usual care should be taken and I would not leave it within reach of small children or puppies. Other houseplants are probably more harmful. You just need to be sensible.
Of course, if you are really worried you could buy a plastic one but I am not going to recommend that. Take the usual care and your poinsettia is not a threat to your health.
When buying one, always buy from a shop that looks after them and be sure that they are not in the cold or in draughts or are bone dry or dripping in water. Locally grown plants are always best: they will not have been in a lorry for days and will have a smaller carbon footprint.
They are usually packed in plastic sleeves and you should check these and avoid any with lots of dropped, yellow or rotting leaves in the base. Slit the sleeve when you get them home so you do not damage the bracts. These marks will remain on the bracts and spoil the appearance of the plant. Obviously, if you break the bracts or leaves, avoid getting the milky sap on your skin and in your eyes and wash it off immediately – as a precaution.
Look for young, fresh plants with plenty of unopened buds in the centre of each cluster of bracts. Please don’t buy them if sprayed blue or with glitter glued all over them! But there are lots of naturally pink and cream poinsettias. I am never sure if I like these more than the traditional reds. I usually start off with a pink one – in fact the one below came home with me.
But I bet I will buy a red one too in the next few weeks.