Mistletoe and holly may be Christmas favorites, but both can cause death if they're eaten by young children, health specialists warn.
Poinsettias also have a reputation for being highly poisonous, but the hybrid plants available locally won't cause much more than a mild stomach upset, said Kayleen Paul, emergency room nurse manager at McKay-Dee Hospital.Paul said she expects during the holiday season to receive calls from parents whose children have dined on Christmas plants and decorations.
"We get many, many calls each year from parents whose children have eaten poinsettia leaves," she said. Fortunately, few are about mistletoe, which is truly deadly.
"Mistletoe can kill. We recommend that people don't even have real mistletoe in their homes. We recommend the plastic kind," Paul said.
Dr. Tony Woodward, an emergency room physician at Primary Children's Medical Center, said there are documented cases in which young children have died after eating as few as two mistletoe berries.
Even if the sprigs are hung in the traditional spot above a doorway, out of children's reach, the berries can fall onto the floor where youngsters can find them, said Woodward, who joined Paul in urging parents not to have the plant in the home.
Another potentially dangerous Christmas plant is holly, whose berries can result in severe stomach distress or even death.
Twenty to 30 holly berries produce serious symptoms if eaten, Woodward said.
He said another dangerous item sometimes brought into the home during Christmas is fireplace salt, a mixture of heavy metals that produce colorful flames.
He said the mixture usually contains copper, arsenic, lead and other agents that can cause severe abdominal pain if swallowed.
Woodward also said the hospital sees toddlers every year who try to eat the miniature lights hanging on Christmas trees.