By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great local journalism.
Extension: Know your holiday plants

Article by UGA Extension Forsyth County's Beverly Adams and Shannon Kennedy

Haul out the holly, pull out the poinsettias, and arrange the amaryllises. It’s the season for putting out greenery, but you might want to think twice about the plants you’re using to deck the halls.

Even though holiday plants are a wonderful decoration for our home, they might cause illness in children or pets should they happen to take a curious nibble. You need to know which plants are safe, which need to be placed out of reach, and which you should avoid altogether. 

There are a few things to keep in mind before diving into the list of common holiday house plants: most toxic plants do not taste good, and for this reason it is not common for children or pets to consume enough of the plant to experience acute dangerous symptoms.

For this reason, it is important to know what part of the plant was consumed, and how much of the plant was eaten. This information is important to pass along to any medical professionals if you need to seek medical attention. 

What better plant to begin with than poinsettias? 

 These popular holiday indoor plants have gotten a bad rap for being highly toxic to pets and kids, but the truth is that a pet or child would have to ingest a lot of material before being poisoned. 

This rarely happens because the sap is irritating and the leaves can cause nausea and vomiting if ingested, so pets and children rarely continue to eat the plant after an initial bite. 

The more severe risk from these plants is the residual pesticides on the plant that can cause illness. Make sure poinsettias are out of reach from pets and children. 

Holly and mistletoe are popular holiday decorations, and the leaves and berries of both these plants have a higher toxicity level than the poinsettia. Symptoms from ingestion include vomiting, diarrhea, excessive drooling, and abdominal pain. 

If large amounts of mistletoe are ingested, it can cause breathing problems, intestinal upset, seizures, and if left untreated, death. These plants should be placed completely out of reach.

People frequently overlook the risk that the beautiful amaryllis poses. Unfortunately, this lovely plant is toxic, and ingestion can cause vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, lethargy and tremors. For this reason, think carefully about where would place this plant in your home, or avoid it altogether. 

Thankfully, not all Christmas plants are a major risk to pets and children- the different parts of Christmas cactus are not toxic. However, the high fiber content of the plant may cause irritation, vomiting, and diarrhea if enough of the plant is ingested. 

As all pet owners probably know, a decorated Christmas tree is very tempting, but it poses unique threats since it throws electrical cords, lights, and ornaments into the mix. The oils from the tree needles can be irritating if ingested, and they can cause excessive drooling or vomiting. 

More importantly, you want to prevent your pet from gaining access to the tree water. Bacteria or molds from the standing water, or fertilizers and chemicals that have been added to the water, can cause illness if your pet decides to take a sip. 

If you want to be safe, keep all plants out of reach of pets that like to chew them or children who might be tempted by bright berries. If a child or pet does ingest any holiday plants, call a poison control center or your veterinarian immediately to find out what you should do to limit the consequences. 

For more information, or for 4-H inquires contact the Forsyth County Extension Office at 770-887-2418 or email You can also reach out on the Facebook page @ugaextensionForsythCounty or website