Holiday Decorations – Toxic or No ?
The resources for this topic are Margaret Huffman, our native plant expert, and a dandy little book Poisonous Plants of California by Fuller and McClintock.
1) Starting off with an easy one – the song… and “a partridge in a pear tree” – pear – Pyrus communis : toxic or non-toxic ? Not toxic. Do birds eat them – yes – the fruit.
2) Ivy -Hedera helix – English Ivy as in the old carol “the holly and the ivy” and which many of us have holding our hillsides and lawns together ? Yes – can be – leaves and berries – gastroenteritis and allergic contact dermatitis.
Do birds eat – yes, particularly the berries.
3) Toyon- Heteromeles arbutifolia -the lovely native with the glorious red berries ? Member of the rose family. Toxic – Seeds or kernel and the leaves especially when damaged by frost. Toxin called by old name of prussic acid. Large amounts can kill livestock. Do birds eat the berries ? Yes when they are “ dead ripe”. Margaret’s comment is that we know they are ripe when they are gone (the birds figure this out first).
4) Poinsettia – Euphorbia pulcherrima – the holiday house plant (red is the choice of 90% according to surveys) – and can be grown in some yards here.. Toxic – yes, leaves, stems and milky sap. Touched – irritant dermatitis and ingested may cause gastritis, but generally not known to be fatal. To be fatal a person must eat 600-700 leaves. Beware of red salads!
5) Mistletoe -Phoradendron tomentosum – the California native – the druids’ favorite plant and the kissing plant. Entire plant is toxic. A few berries can cause moderate abdominal pain etc., while a tea made from leaves can be fatal. Birds, however, eat seeds/berries and propagate the plant.
6) Pyracantha – Firethorn – toxic – yes. Seeds are known to produce small amounts of hydrogen cyanide. As with the Toyon, birds eat seed when the berries are “dead ripe”. How do people know…. the berries are gone.
7) English Yew ,Taxus baccata, is cultivated in California…. this Yew is fatal (can cause death) and was also famous for being the wood of the longbows of England in the 100 years war (1337-1453). The bark of the Pacific Yew, Taxus brevifolia, however, is used to produce tamoxifen ,a breast cancer treatment, and lacks toxic alkaloids. Birds can eat the berries.
So……. use these festive plants as decoration, be careful of berries around children and pets – birds may eat the berries, but people probably should not and remember this number # 1-800-222-1222 which is the United State National Poison Hotline.. they will automatically connect you with the nearest poison center – 1-800-222-1222.