By Dr. Anthony Policastro

Christmas time is a time to decorate, and plants are often part of the decorations. However, not all Christmas plants are entirely safe. That is especially true for children or small animals. The dosage of poisons wind up being high for their small size.

Holly is a good example of that. Holly leaves are prickly. They can cause scratches but are not likely to be eaten. Holly berries are a different story. They contain a chemical called theobromine.

We often eat theobromine in chocolate. However, the levels are low and we burn it up in about 2-3 hours. Holly plants concentrate theobromine in the berries. Therefore eating berries can cause a high dose. That usually results in gastrointestinal issues. However, in small children that dose can affect pulse rate and blood pressure. The berries are pretty so children are attracted to them.

A bigger concern is a pet dog. Most people already know that dogs should not be given chocolate. What they do not know is that is because it has theobromine in it. Dogs burn it off more slowly than humans. It takes about 18 hours.

English ivy is often used in Christmas decorations. People should be wart of the word “ivy” in its name. Some people are sensitive to it and touching can cause a rash similar to that caused by poison ivy.

Poinsettia is a traditional Christmas decoration. For many years the dangers of eating poinsettia has been preached. It is true that eating poinsettia leaves can cause poisoning. However, the dose requires a lot of leaves to be ingested. The leaves taste terrible. Therefore, unless someone or some animal likes to eat things that taste bad, it is not as much of an issue as feared.

Coleus is a pretty plant. It is not toxic to humans. However, it can cause gastrointestinal symptoms in pets. They can be severe enough to cause intestinal bleeding.

Amaryllis flowers are pretty. They also contain a toxin called lycorine. It is concentrated in the bulb of the plant but is present in other parts in lower amounts. It is toxic for humans and pets.

Kissing under the mistletoe is a tradition. What most people do not realize is that mistletoe is a green parasite that grows on plant leaves. Children and pets might not care about eating parasites.

The bottom line is that if you have small children or pets, be careful what you use in the way of plants for Christmas decorations.