Poinsettias Will Kill You (And Other Christmas Plant Myths)
By, Rob Sproule
Myths are like the telephone game. Facts get slightly altered as they’re passed from one person to another, to another, and as years and decades roll by, misinterpretations cement into apparent truth.
Let’s bust up some plant myths, particularly the unfortunate one about poinsettia toxicity, which stems from an almost 100 year old misdiagnoses. Other plant myths, like putting vodka in the Christmas tree water, are just odd.
Myth 1: Poinsettias are Poisonous
The humble poinsettia has been on the wrong side of a bad rumour for decades. Today, lets take the first step in setting things straight.
Contrary to everything you’ve undoubtedly heard, poinsettias are not poisonous. I repeat: not. The myth began in 1919 when a 2 year old girl died and the cause was incorrectly blamed on a poinsettia leaf.
Poinsettia sap does irritate the mouth, if enough is eaten, can cause vomiting (just like pretty much anything else). The POISONDEX information database however, which is the go-to resource for the majority of poison-control centers in the US, says that for a 50 pound child to reach toxic levels of compound he/she would have to eat 500 poinsettia leaves.
If you catch puppy or kitty nibbling on the leaves, don’t worry about it unless they start to vomit repeatedly, at which time I’d call the vet. Poinsettias belong to the Euphorbia family, and the milky sap of some species is highly abrasive to human skin, an unfortunate family association that doesn’t help the poinsettias reputation.
Aspirins help Christmas trees last longer
Christmas trees are like a cut flower; they need a steady amount of water and have a short shelf life. Our hope is that they stay vibrant through Christmas day so Santa isn’t showered with needles when he’s placing presents.
Longevity starts where you buy the tree (link for online only: Picking the best tree). If it showers when you shake, walk away. Make sure they cut it for you (diagonally if your stand allows for it) and that you keep it watered constantly. Letting it dry out could lead to scabbing which will stop the water flowing.
As for adding aspirin, corn syrup, sugar, or vodka to the water”¦ no. Aspirin is for headaches. Plants have been drinking water for a long time and they’re experts at it. All you need to do is provide moisture.
Christmas Cactuses need extra darkness
This one is just sad. The myth stems from a fact: that the Christmas cactus needs several weeks of 12-14 hours of darkness to induce blooming.
For some reason, this has been conflated to “we need to throw it into the closet every afternoon.” The sad truth is that we’re dark around 5pm in late Fall, and your plant gets all the darkness it needs (and then some).
There’s a good chance that your cactus blooms early (late November-ish). That’s because it’s already gotten it’s darkness treatment and it’s good to go. The joys of a Canadian winter.
Want to learn more about Christmas Cactus? Dig Into Rob’s article “Christmas Cactus 101“.