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Poinsettias get 'bad rap' around pets

Popular holiday plant not as toxic as believed

Poinsettias contain sticky white sap that is a form of latex. (Photo by Kathy Morrison)

Cats will be cats, and any houseplant can be a potential plaything.

That’s no exception when it comes to poinsettias.

This popular holiday plant has long had a reputation as a kitten killer. But unless your feline really devours a lot of leaves, stems and flower buds, your poinsettia can co-exist with your pet.

According to VCA veterinary experts, poinsettias are not extremely toxic to pets.

“Poinsettias get a bad rap, but they’re actually not nearly as toxic as most people think,” VCA says. “Rather than being lethal, their sap is simply irritating, typically causing drooling and occasionally some vomiting, too.

“So if your pet nibbles your holiday poinsettia, you can rest easy; aside from feeling a little icky, your pet should be fine.”

Usually, the taste of that white milky sap will keep cats – or other animals and kids – from eating more than a nibble. A form of latex, that white sap is very bitter – the better to keep animals and insects from eating the plant’s leaves.

Poinsettia sap does contain mild toxic substances that, when eaten in quantity, can cause stomach upset and diarrhea. It has been known to get some people – particularly small children – very sick.

Poinsettias get extra drought tolerance from their sap, which helps the plant to conserve water. The sap also acts as an instant bandage; if the plant suffers a wound such as a broken stem, the latex quickly dries over the break and seals the damage. With its instant latex Band-aid, the plant doesn’t lose more sap and can heal faster.


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Garden Checklist for week of April 14

It's still not warm enough to transplant tomatoes directly in the ground, but we’re getting there.

* April is the last chance to plant citrus trees such as dwarf orange, lemon and kumquat. These trees also look good in landscaping and provide fresh fruit in winter.

* Smell orange blossoms? Feed citrus trees with a low dose of balanced fertilizer (such as 10-10-10) during bloom to help set fruit. Keep an eye out for ants.

* Apply slow-release fertilizer to the lawn.

* Thoroughly clean debris from the bottom of outdoor ponds or fountains.

* Spring brings a flush of rapid growth, and that means your garden needs nutrients. Fertilize shrubs and trees with a slow-release fertilizer. Or mulch with a 1-inch layer of compost.

* Azaleas and camellias looking a little yellow? If leaves are turning yellow between the veins, give them a boost with chelated iron.

* Trim dead flowers but not leaves from spring-flowering bulbs such as daffodils and tulips. Those leaves gather energy to create next year's flowers. Also, give the bulbs a fertilizer boost after bloom.

* Pinch chrysanthemums back to 12 inches for fall flowers. Cut old stems to the ground.

* Mulch around plants to conserve moisture and control weeds.

* From seed, plant beans, beets, cantaloupes, carrots, corn, cucumbers, melons, radishes and squash.

* Plant onion sets.

* In the flower garden, plant seeds for asters, cosmos, celosia, marigolds, salvia, sunflowers and zinnias.

* Transplant petunias, zinnias, geraniums and other summer bloomers.

* Plant perennials and dahlia tubers for summer bloom.

* Mid to late April is about the last chance to plant summer bulbs, such as gladiolus and tuberous begonias.

* Transplant lettuce seedlings. Choose varieties that mature quickly such as loose leaf.

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