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 ...and thanks for stopping by. I'm Claire Douglas,  DIY and home interiors writer specialising in money-saving and creative home interior projects. I've spent years developing my 'bespoke on a budget' approach to DIY and home interiors and I love sharing all my tips and tricks in tutorials and posts here on my blog, in articles I write for some of the leading titles, in the press, on Instagram, Tiktok and my online course

  • Claire Douglas

Poisonous festive plants: which of these would you recognise?

Updated: 4 days ago

Are Poinsettias poisonous? Can holly berries be fatal? Don't bring these poisonous festive plants into your home without knowing the risks to pets and children

christmas wreath on front door

I’m a huge fan of seasonal styling and styling your home with flowers and foliage - in case you didn’t know, I have a mini online course dedicated to it. One of my favourite money-saving decor hacks is foraging for flowers and foliage - it can save you a fortune compared to buying them at the florist or garden centre.

So I wasn’t surprised to read that in the past week alone, there has been a 5900% increase in Google searches for winter houseplants! I was, however, very surprised to read the following stats about poisonous festive plants that dropped into my inbox today…

10% of pets have fallen ill after eating foliage in the home, with 43% of those needing urgent veterinary care.

Happily, I discovered that experts at Clear It Waste have compiled a list of popular toxic plants to raise awareness (and hopefully prevent poorly pets) which I was only too happy to share and I added a couple of my own too. Let me know if any of these are a surprise to you…

1. Holly

illustration of holly sprig with red berries
Image credit: Emma's Botanicals

First up is the iconic Holly as seen in the beautiful illustration by talented artist Emma van Klaveren of Emma's Botanicals. Arguably one of the most festive bushes or trees with its distinct red berries - but it’s exactly these berries that you need to be wary of…

“The berries contain a chemical called Theobromine, the same chemical compound found in chocolate, which is highly toxic for dogs and cats. It often causes vomiting, diarrhoea, high blood pressure and in severe cases, even death,” advises the Clear It Waste experts.

“Holly leaves also contain Theobromine, though, in a much smaller dose, consumption is still strongly discouraged. Holly, whilst beautiful, is definitely one to be wary of this winter.”

Ways to mitigate the risk of holly berries in your festive floral arrangements this winter:

  • Ensure you place any holly high up and out of reach of pets and children & somewhere berries cannot fall into an accessible place.

  • Opt for berry-less Holly and keep the leaves out of reach.

  • Opt for artificial Holly berries

2. Yew

“Yews come in several different sizes, with unique light green needles, brown cones and red berries; you can often find these trees surrounding cemeteries. Legend says the reason yews are found there is because they are so poisonous! They were believed to keep livestock out to maintain the grass and plants within the area. Yew is one of the scarier trees, and with good reason. A chemical called taxines is found in the berries, cones and even the needles of yews, and is extremely poisonous to humans and pets alike,” the experts advise.

“In animals, yew poisoning often presents symptoms like diarrhoea, vomiting, trembling and convulsions - which are also seen in human yew poisoning with severe cases potentially leading to comas. As stunning as yews are, they definitely are not worth the risk,” the continued.

In short, it’s probably safest to choose an alternative plant for your festive foraging and floral displays, Yew is not one you really want on your festive tablescape or mantle arrangement. If you are determined to have Yew in your festive home decor, then I’d advise choosing artificial stems.

3. Winter Cherry

“The Jerusalem Cherry, or Winter Cherry, produces orange-red berries which often make an appearance in winter festivities. Whilst their shiny berry and bright colours may look enticing, it is incredibly poisonous to both humans and animals,” the team at Clear It Waste discovered in their research.

The chemical that causes the risk to health for Winter Cherry is solanocapsine.

“Some of the side effects of ingesting a winter cherry include headache, abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhoea. The actual amount of toxin that is ‘safe’ to ingest is still up for debate, so the general advice is to keep them out of reach of animals and children - or better yet avoid having them in your home altogether,” they advise.

In summary, this is another one best to avoid. Especially when there is such a wide variety of real and faux foliage that can look spectacular in your Christmas floral arrangements and displays. Pop over to my DIY Christmas page for lots of inspiration on how to decorate your home for the festive period.

5. Christmas Trees

Christmas tree with brown paper wrapped gifts underneath

“Whilst Christmas is a long way off, it's not abnormal for people to start putting their orders in for food and decorations to celebrate. Many are aware that dogs and cats should not eat pine needles due to the pointy ends. The sharp needles can get stuck in the mouth, paws or even eyes! And that's before your furry friend has managed to swallow one. If swallowed it can cause a blockage or puncture their stomach, resulting in a vets trip and a not very festive experience,” the research concluded.

Although I agree that real Christmas trees pose a risk, I think it’s quite a small one if fallen needles are swept or hoovered regularly, so I’m not going to suggest you swerve a real tree. There are ways to reduce the amount of needle-drop you experience, see below for some examples…

Ways to reduce the amount of needle-drop from your real Christmas tree

  • Keep the tree watered

  • Keep trees cool and don’t position them next to a radiator

  • Don’t remove any of the bark as this will result in water loss and increased needle drop

5. Poinsettia

red poinsettia in gold pot
Image credit: Dobbies

Interestingly, this seems to be a plant which has a slightly unfair reputation: “Poinsettia has a reputation for being extremely poisonous for animals and humans if ingested. However, researchers are now suggesting that the plant has low levels of poison, if any at all. The sap of the plant has also been shown to produce a mild reaction when in contact with skin,” the experts advise.

“Clear It Waste still suggests keeping this beauty away from pets and children as ingesting high volumes of it could produce nausea and vomiting. But in general, this is one plant considered safe for your festivities!” they concluded.

This is good news as many a poinsettia is gifted to friends and family at Christmas and would it even feel like Christmas without poinsettias filling the shelves of shops, garden centres (like Dobbies) and florists?!

6. Mistletoe

Mistletoe might be a symbol of love, but there's nothing lovely about it for pets. If eaten, mistletoe is highly poisonous and can even be deadly to pets so it's worth bearing that in mind when you choose where to put real mistletoe in your home over the Christmas period. Taking sensible precautions will reduce the risk to pets or choose an alternative (less-toxic) plant or buy an artificial bunch if you are particularly worried but really want to hang mistletoe for maximum Christmas kisses!

7. Amaryllis

Being really honest, I hate Amaryllis! Ok, hate's probably a bit strong, but they don't give me the festive feels shall we say! Amaryllis are toxic to cats and dogs but should be fairly low risk to dogs if kept up off the floor. Cats obviously like to climb and can take interest in potted plants so it's worth being mindful of this when choosing to have an amaryllis in the house and deciding where to put it. They don't have berries which makes them easier to manage and could be placed on a shelf of mantle to reduce the risk of pets coming into contact.

If real plants are not your thing, keep an eye out as I’ll be sharing lots of suggestions soon for good value and super stylish artificial flowers and foliage for the festive season.

christmas tablescape with greenery and sliced dried oranges

In summary, lots of the plants we recognise as being fun and festive at Christmas time can actually pose a serious health risk to pets. If you have pets (or small children of course as the same would apply) you should take a measured and risk-based approach to choosing which festive foliage to style your home with and where to place the arrangements and displays. You might feel totally happy with the risk if your pets arent remotely interested in eating anything green (or red!) or you might have a pet that is famous for doing everything it's not supposed to. If you are looking for ideas for festive home styling, don't forget to check out my foraging page and my DIY Christmas page too which both have lots of ideas and inspiration.

Where next?

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Online Courses - Self-paced, affordable online courses on DIY, Home styling, upcycling and styling with flowers and foliage

Foraging - Guides to help you save money by foraging for flowers and foliage to style your home

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DIY Kitchen makeover on a budget - money-saving DIY and styling ideas

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Home organisation - tips and tricks for organising your home with minimum fuss & maximum impact.

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