Common Name
Botanic Name
Euphorbia pulcherrima
Plant Family
Euphorbiaceae. There are about 2000 species, all of which are characterized by their milky sap, and unique flower structure (cyathium)
A common house plant in non tropical areas. In the tropics poinsettias are large perennial shrubs growing to 12-15 feet in height.
Animals Affected
Commercially available Poinsettias are not poisonous to dogs and cats or people. Other members of this large plant family are poisonous as they can induce severe skin and mucous membrane irritation in some people.
Toxic Principle
Poinsettias have minimal levels of complex diterpenoid euphorbol esters and steroidal saponins compared to other toxic members of the Euphorbia family. In other species of Euphorbia these compounds are present in much greater quantities, and are responsible for the irritant effects to the oral mucous membranes, the digestive system, the skin and eyes. Some people are susceptible to the effects of these irritants when they get the milky sap on their skin or in their mouth and eyes. Similar effects can be expected in some animals that are exposed to the toxic euphorbias.
Poinsettias originated in Mexico and have been extensively hybridized to accentuate the brightly colored bracts and leaves that have made this the most popular plant commercially distributed at Christmas time. The most popular form has bright red bracts surrounding the small flowers (cyathium), and dark green alternate leaves. Members of the Euphorbia family are very diverse in their size and structure ranging from large trees to small leafless cactus-like plants. Some species are noxious weeds, spreading readily (eg: E. esula) Some other common species of Euphorbia that are toxic include: Euphorbia milii - Crown of thorns E. myrsinites - Creeping spurge E. marginata - Snow on the mountain E. tirucalli - Pencil tree E. esula - Leafy spurge Poinsettias are perenials or annuals depending on whether they are growing in tropical or colder climates. The leaves are alternate, and lanceolate. The upper leaves develop distinctive bright colors ranging from red, pink, yellow, to white or mottled
The white latex sap in the leaves and stems is mildly irritating to the mucous membranes of the mouth and in some animals will induce excessive salivation and vomiting if the plant parts are swallowed. The wide variety of hybrid poinsettias available today have very little toxicity compared to the parent species. Unless a cat or dog eats a considerable amount of the poinsettia plant the animal is not likely to show any effects. The modern day poinsettias sold commercially during the holiday season are not a serious risk to animals. This does not mean that if a pet has a habit of chewing on plants that it should be allowed to!
The mouth and skin can be washed with water and mild soap to remove the sap.
Ocular System
Conjunctivitis may result if the sap gets into the eyes.
Special Notes
The Society of American Florists has given a "Clean Bill of Health" to the Poinsettia plant. 1601 Duke Street, Alexandria, Virginia, 22314." It is however wise to keep poinsettias and other plants out of the reach of children and household pets that show a desire to chew or eat plants.
Crown of thorns, Christ thorn(Euphorbia milii)
Pencil tree (E. tirucalli)
Creeping spurge (E. myrsinites)
Snow on the mountain (E. marginata)
Leafy spurge (E. esula)