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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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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of Nov. 26:

Concentrate on helping your garden stay comfortable during these frosty nights – and clean up all those leaves!

* Irrigate frost-tender plants such as citrus in the late afternoon. That extra soil moisture increases temperatures around the plant a few degrees, just enough to prevent frost damage. The exception are succulents; too much water before frost can cause them to freeze.

* Cover sensitive plants before the sun goes down. Use cloth sheets or frost cloths, not plastic sheeting, to hold in warmth. Make sure to remove covers in the morning.

* Use fall leaves as mulch around shrubs and vegetables. Mulch acts as a blanket and keeps roots warmer.

* Stop dead-heading; let rose hips form on bushes to prompt dormancy.

* Prune non-flowering trees and shrubs.

* Clean and sharpen garden tools before storing for the winter.

* Brighten the holidays with winter bloomers such as poinsettias, amaryllis, calendulas, Iceland poppies, pansies and primroses.

* Keep poinsettias in a sunny, warm location – and definitely indoors overnight. Water thoroughly. After the holidays, feed your plants monthly so they’ll bloom again next December.

* Rake and remove dead leaves and stems from dormant perennials.

* Plant spring bulbs. Don’t forget the tulips chilling in the refrigerator. Daffodils can be planted without pre-chilling.

* This is also a good time to seed wildflowers and plant such spring bloomers as sweet peas, sweet alyssum and bachelor buttons.

* Plant trees and shrubs. They’ll benefit from fall and winter rains while establishing their roots.

* Set out cool-weather annuals such as pansies and snapdragons.

* Lettuce, cabbage and broccoli also can be planted now.

* Plant garlic and onions.

* Bare-root season begins now. Plant bare-root berries, kiwifruit, grapes, artichokes, horseradish and rhubarb.

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