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Avoid These Common Winter Hazards

Dec. 25, 2013|737 views


Avoid These Common Winter Hazards

This time of year it’s not uncommon for people to decorate their homes with a variety of exotic plants. So today I thought I’d mention some potential pitfalls of bringing these plants into the home.


Mistletoe is a parasitic plant that grows on trees. It has long figured in European mythology. Early Europeans were fascinated by the fact that a thriving green plant could grow “in the air” so to speak, with no visible means of obtaining water or nutrients, and they ascribed magical properties to the plant, which never touches the earth. An Ancient Roman historian claimed that the Celts believed mistletoe was an antidote to poison. This is ironic, because the white waxy berries of mistletoe are highly toxic. Accordingly, it’s important to avoid placing live mistletoe in the home where pets or children might be tempted to sample the appealing-looking berries.


The lovely red “flowers” of the poinsettia plant are admired for their ability to bring a little color into the home during the dark months of winter. Native to Mexico and Central America, the plant is widely cultivated and sold throughout America.

Oddly enough, the poinsettia is not toxic, despite a widespread belief to the contrary. At worst, the latex-like sap may cause skin irritation. Of course, the plant should not be eaten. But it’s not particularly dangerous, in any event. This contrasts with mistletoe, which despite being highly toxic, is generally not recognized as such.


Holly is an attractive evergreen shrub, which most commonly features dark green, glossy leaves (with spikes) punctuated by blood-red berries in winter. Holly has also long been a favorite winter decoration among Europeans and their descendants, probably because it’s one of the few plants that provide cheery color in the dreary landscape of a northern winter.

Red holly berries are obviously attractive to small children. But they contain a chemical similar to caffeine, and should not be ingested. Although not likely to cause poisoning, any but the smallest amounts of this chemical can trigger unpleasant symptoms such as nausea, dizziness, elevated heart rate, etc. Clearly this attractive plant should be used with caution.

Tags:  health tips