Hall out the Holly, but Don’t Eat it

Holiday plants and greenery are cherished traditions. But under that pretty, green demeanor may be some toxins that are harmful to certain members of your family, including dogs and cats. Purdue Extension Porter County wants you and your family to be aware of some of the issues surrounding these holiday decorations.


All parts of the holly plant, especially the berries, contain the toxin theobromine. If ingested the holly or berries can cause severe gastrointestinal problems, low blood pressure and dizziness. The toxin in holly is especially hazardous for dogs and cats.


The poor poinsettia gets a bad wrap when it comes to holiday folklore. While we have to wonder why someone would want to eat this pretty posey, it is not a deadly plant. If eaten it may produce only nausea or maybe vomiting. 


There are a number of mistletoe species available during the Christmas season, some more toxic than others. Treat all mistletoe as potentially toxic. The toxin in mistletoe is phoratoxin. If ingested it may cause vomiting, stomach pain, nausea, low blood pressure, and slow heartbeat.

 Pine and Spruce Trees/Boughs

These evergreens cause none if any problems. While mildly toxic if ingested, they are unappetizing for pets or small children. Some peoples’ skin may become irritated from the natural plant oils on the greenery. Avoid the problem by wearing gloves and long sleeves when working with these plants.


Yews are an evergreen with flattened needles and bright red berries. The yew should not be used for Christmas decorations because it is extremely toxic to humans and animals if ingested. The toxins in the yew are taxines. Ingestion may result in breathing difficulty, convulsions, dizziness, gastrointestinal distress, and even coma.

Norfolk Pine

This plant is known to be mildly toxic to dogs and cats when ingested, occasionally causing abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, and lethargy. The Norfolk Island pine (Araucaria heterophylla), is generally grown indoors as a decorative plant or cut down for use as a Christmas tree.

 Remember before bringing any plant into your home, investigate if it poses a toxic threat to your children or pets. Two excellent websites on houseplants and their toxicity are the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control/toxic-and-non-toxic-plantsand Poison Control Center https://www.poison.org/articles/plant To talk to a Porter County Master Gardener about holiday plants or winter garden care, call the Hotline, 219-465-3555.



Sue Baxter