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A Kiss is Just a Kiss

Like miniature snow globes, small white berries hang in the balance. Mistletoe, evergreen trees, and poinsettias abound as decorations bring cheer and good tidings during the holiday season. But should we be worried if pieces of these plants find their way into the mouths of small children or the adults keeping watch?


Viscum album (European mistletoe) and Phoradendron leucarpum/ P. flavescens (American mistletoe) hang in the door frame prompting a kiss between those caught in a romantic moment. A festive evergreen plant, mistletoe represents peace, love, and friendship. However, unless these plants are the fake variety (and plastic comes with its own set of problems), accidental ingestion of the berries or any part of the plant can produce toxicity.

Both plants are hemi- or partially- parasitic, meaning they derive some of their nutrients from another plant—their water and inorganic nutrients come from their host tree. They are harvested from the branches they inhabit and sold at farm stands and gardening centers in the winter months.

The European mistletoe presents a greater chance for harm than the American mistletoe, and ingestion of any part of the plant should be avoided. The berries, stems, and leaves contain phorotoxins and viscotoxins. Symptoms of toxicity are predominantly gastrointestinal (GI) upset, delirium, and bradycardia (a slowing of the heart rate.)


Another seasonal plant, the poinsettia, is the highly cultivated species of the Euphorbia genus. Their red (sometimes white) showy bracts (modified leaves, not petals) herald winter celebrations. While most Euphorbia plants have a milky sap that is a contact irritant, the poinsettia is the least toxic and may produce only mild irritation, and possibly GI upset if ingested.

As with plants, small ornaments, button batteries for toys, and anything merry that might attract curious children or pets should be kept out of reach. Ingestion of any of these plants or objects should prompt a call to Poison Control at (800) 222-1222. Have a safe and happy holiday.



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