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Decorative plants – their ingestion can be toxic to both humans and animals

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News of 15/12/2020

During the winter holiday season, holly, mistletoe and poinsettia are used to decorate cakes, home interiors and gardens. The ingestion of berries or leaves by children or animals can be toxic, causing symptoms of varying severity depending on the quantity consumed. In the event of ingestion, ANSES recommends immediately calling a poison control centre.

Holly: a toxic plant for humans and animals

Small branches and leaves of holly (Ilex aquifolium) are often used to make wreaths or decorate Christmas cakes. The red berries at the base of the leaves can be attractive to children who grab them or pick them up from the floor. Every year, poison control centres receive between 60 and 80 calls about children under the age of 15 who have accidentally placed holly berries in their mouth. Almost 40% of cases occur during the winter holiday season between December and January.

In practice, although toxic, holly leaves are hard and spiny and are seldom involved in cases of poisoning, unlike holly berries. In the large majority of cases, children put one or two berries in the mouth or ingest them and either do not develop any symptoms or only experience minor digestive problems (nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain). However, ingesting a larger number of berries can induce more pronounced symptoms such as excessive salivation, vomiting and persistent diarrhoea, or even drowsiness or seizures.

Holly leaves and berries are also toxic to domestic animals (dogs, cats, etc.) if ingested. They can develop digestive (diarrhoea, vomiting, etc.) or neurological (drowsiness, coma, etc.) signs after ingesting a large number of berries.

Mistletoe: a plant that is toxic to humans and sometimes lethal to animals

Other winter plants, such as branches of mistletoe (Viscum album), can decorate homes and gardens during the holidays. In the event of ingestion, mistletoe’s leaves are more toxic than its white berries. Poison control centres receive around 40 calls per year concerning children under the age of 15 who have put the leaves or berries in their mouth; three-quarters of these cases take place between November and January. Most children do not develop any symptoms or show only mild digestive signs (vomiting, diarrhoea, etc.) after ingesting a small number of berries. However, cardiac (cardiac rhythm disorders, drop in blood pressure, etc.) or neurological (drowsiness, etc.) disorders can be observed if a large number of berries is ingested.

Mistletoe leaves and berries are also toxic, and possibly lethal, if they are consumed by domestic animals or grazing herbivores such as cows, sheep or horses.

Lastly, Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) or “Christmas Star”, whose foliage turns red or a lighter colour at the end of the year, is a highly valued decorative plant in the holiday season. Placing a leaf in the mouth can cause mild digestive symptoms in children. However, for your pet, chewing several leaves or stems can have more serious consequences, such as digestive problems or excessive salivation.

What to do in the event of ingestion

  • If a child has placed leaves or berries of holly, mistletoe or another ornamental plant in their mouth: clean their mouth with a wet cloth, do not give them anything to drink, and call a poison control centre.
  • If your animal is poisoned, call a veterinary poison control centre.
  • In all cases, keep the label or a photo of the plant to facilitate its identification.

 

Poison control centre numbers (24/7)

ANGERS                      +33 (0)2 41 48 21 21

BORDEAUX                 +33 (0)5 56 96 40 80

LILLE                           +33 (0)8 00 59 59 59

LYON                           +33 (0)4 72 11 69 11

MARSEILLE                 +33 (0)4 91 75 25 25

NANCY                        +33 (0)3 83 22 50 50

PARIS                          +33 (0)1 40 05 48 48

TOULOUSE                 +33 (0)5 61 77 74 47

 

 

Veterinary poison control centre numbers (24/7)

LYON                           +33 (0)4 78 87 10 40

NANTES                       +33 (0)2 40 68 77 40