COLUMBIA, Mo. – Every year, some well-meaning person will warn of the dangers of the poinsettia. This is an urban legend that simply will not die.

Its reputation as a toxic plant is undeserved. It’s been tested for toxicity and passed as safe.

“The American Floral Society commissioned Ohio State University to conduct a toxicity test,” said David Trinklein, horticulture specialist for University of Missouri Extension. “They fed the ubiquitous laboratory rat poinsettia leaves equivalent to a 50-pound child eating 500 to 600 leaves, and the rats looked just fine.”

What caused this pretty holiday plant to lose its trustworthiness? The poinsettia was blamed for the death of an Army officer’s two-year-old child in 1919.

“The child was found dead, reportedly, under a poinsettia plant, clutching a leaf in her hand. Further investigation years later concluded the claim was false and poinsettias were not even in the area,” Trinklein said. “But the toxicity myth had been started.”

While the poinsettia gets a clean bill of health on toxicity, as with any plant, there can be allergy issues. “We know the poinsettia is not toxic, but we don’t know about possible hyperallergenic reactions in an individual child,” Trinklein said.

The best rule-of-thumb is to keep pets and small children away from all houseplants. However, there is no reason to single out the beautiful poinsettia.

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