COLUMBIA, Mo. – Ornamental plants are a great way to make your home festive for the holidays. Stealing a kiss under the mistletoe or hanging a holly wreath to welcome guests are both lovely traditions. What’s not so lovely is that both these plants are toxic.

Four common holiday plants, which vary in degree of toxicity, include mistletoe, holly, English ivy and Japanese yew. These plants can cause harm if eaten, which is especially true for small children or pets.

Of these four, mistletoe is the most notorious.

“Mistletoe is so toxic that many florists hesitate to sell it,” said David Trinklein, horticulture specialist for University of Missouri Extension. “What you actually buy as mistletoe is probably silk or synthetic.”

Holly is a step down in toxicity as far as holiday plants are concerned. The red berries are the offensive part of this plant.

“If holly is used, put it in a place where if a berry does fall off it can't roll off onto the floor,” Trinklein said. “Children tend to explore their world through taste as well as sight. A bright red holly berry, lying on the floor, might prove irresistible to a toddler.”

English ivy is also slightly toxic, Trinklein said. So is the Japanese yew, an outdoor shrub that serves as decorative greenery in the home during the holidays.

“The yew has nice green foliage that, unfortunately, is toxic and a berrylike fruit that bears a toxic seed, if chewed.” Trinklein said.

Decking the halls safely goes beyond using caution with poisonous plants. This is also a time of year for fire hazards.

According to the Electrical Safety Foundation International, holiday decorations and Christmas trees account for almost 2,000 fires a year. Trinklein said keeping holiday greens hydrated can help prevent many fires.

“When you bring home greenery, re-cut the stems and place it in water and store it in a cool place,” Trinklein said. “Don’t rush the season. Hold off moving the greenery into the home until shortly before Christmas, and get rid of it as soon as it starts to dry out.”

Just a little caution will keep the holidays joyful while protecting your family and friends.

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