NDSU Extension Service - Ramsey County


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Be Decorative - Not Fatal

Be Decorative – Not Fatal


                Making our homes more festive for the holidays is a long lasting tradition. We enjoy the green foliage and colorful flowers of plants. Unfortunately, many of the plants  - evergreens, holly, mistletoe and other traditional plants we have in our homes during the holidays - can pose risks,

                In days of old, evergreens and other plants used for holiday decoration were rarely brought into the home before Christmas Eve. Today, the holiday season starts with Thanksgiving and lasts through New Year’s. Any greenery and other cut plant material you bring into the home at the beginning of the season is likely to become dry by New Year’s Day and could pose a fire hazard.

                When it comes to greenery, freshness is important since aged, dried material becomes more of a fire hazard in the home. Greenery from a retail outlet should have its stems re-cut before immersing them in water to keep hydrated. Keep the plant material in the coolest place possible until it is time to move it indoors. Freezing temperatures will not harm the greenery, but unfrozen water should be available to the stems at all times during storage.

                To promote safety and prolong useful life of holiday greenery, keep stems in water after moving them inside. Design decorations so branches fit into a container that holds water. adding floral preservatives such as those used for cut flowers. Change the water weekly since water can become foul if allowed to sit.

                Never place decorations containing greenery near heat sources such as hot air ducts, radiators or appliances that produce heat. Don’t put greenery near fireplaces, where sparks from an open flame might ignite them.

                Some traditional plants contain toxic compounds that might present a health risk, especially to children.  For example, the red berries of holly are considered mildly poisonous and can cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea if ingested. These bright berries are quite appealing to young children. Keep holly well out of the reach of youngsters and make sure that any berries that might accidentally drop from the decoration cannot fall to the floor and be retrieved by a curious child. The leaves, bark and seeds of the common evergreen yew shrub are considered toxic. Yew produces a small red fruit that might be attractive to children. While the pulp of the fruit is harmless, the seeds, if chewed, can be quite toxic.

                Mistletoe is a holiday plant steeped with folklore and tradition. However, use mistletoe with extreme care, Both American and European types are highly toxic. Keep both kinds well out of the reach of children. If using fresh mistletoe, keep it wrapped with plastic so its leaves and berries can’t fall to the floor.

                Eating part of a poinsettia will probably produce no symptoms at all or at worst produce only mild nausea and perhaps vomiting. A person will probably never get to the nausea and vomiting stage because many leaves have to be ingested to cause any effects. This isn't likely because the leaves taste bad. Contact with the sap of a poinsettia may cause the skin to develop a mild itch, however.

                The National Institutes of Health says that poinsettia is "not poisonous" for humans. ASPCA (American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) says that poinsettia is toxic for dogs and cats, causing stomach upset and occasional vomiting, but also says that the plant is "generally over-rated in toxicity".

                Trimming the tree is a traditional holiday pastime; however, Christmas trees pose a serious danger to households if not properly cared for. The Home Safety Council offers some tips when selecting and caring for your Christmas tree this holiday season.

                When purchasing live, cut trees or greens, carefully inspect the needles. If they’re brown or break easily, the greenery isn’t fresh and poses a greater fire risk. Test for freshness by bending a few needles in half. If they snap in two, the tree is dry – look for one on which the needles spring back to their original shape.

        When you take your tree home, put it in a sturdy, non-tip stand filled with water. Keep live trees supplied with water at all times; dehydrated Christmas trees can catch fire more easily.

        Make sure the tree is at least three feet away from any flame or heat source and never decorate trees with candles.

                Safely dispose of the tree when it begins dropping needles. Dried-out trees are flammable and should not be left inside the home or garage, or placed against the house.

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