It is quite
common at Christmas to give or receive a new houseplant, but usually
there is not a family history with it.
How much should we know? Is it poisonous? A number of Christmas
plants are. Is it allergenic? Does it like acid or alkaline soil, a
light or a heavy soil? Nearly everyone needs an encyclopedia to hunt out
I have Adenium
obesum (Desert Rose) which is listed as having one of the most dangerous
poisons in its latex. Luckily
it is not easy to wound as it has a thick stem and leathery leaves.
It is from Arabia and
Pepper (Capsicum annum) is quite often found around Christmas time with
its little round tip, or a pointed tip on longer “peppers” of many
colors. The leaves are
poisonous and the peppers are very hot, much like our garden hot
peppers. Also called
Christmas peppers, it is small, 12 inches tall by 15 inches wide that is
usually thrown out after the peppers fall off. But they do last for
several months. One of my encyclopedias lists 54 house plants as
poisonous, dangerous, or allergy causing. The Jerusalem Cherry (Pseudo
capsicum) is a small-12 by 12 inch-that will keep its “cherries” for
a number of months. Both
species plants contain solanine.
plants we often receive about Christmas time is any member of the
Euphorbia family of which Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) is one.
There are over 2000 species of Euphorbia-annuals, perennials, trees,
shrubs, and succulents. It is not listed as poisonous but one can get an
allergic reaction to its milky latex if a leaf is broken of or a stem is
cut. Other members are
Crotons, Crown of Thorns (Emilii) and Acalphia.
It is a good idea to wash your hands after handling any of these.
I have seen Crotons (Codiaeum sp.) used as hedges in
(Hippeastrum) are a very common Christmas gift. But be careful as all
parts are listed as dangerous as they contain “alkaloid lycoriene”
the bulb being the most toxic as an irritant to the gastrointestinal
tract. They can be purchased unpotted so that you can plant them at
intervals. Usually they will
bloom 6 to 8 weeks after planting. Do
not water very much until the leaves appear. Half of the bulb should be
above ground. After the
flower wilts, cut the stem down to the soil.
After the last spring freeze, it can be planted in the garden in
or out of the pot. I prefer to take it out of the pot and plant it in
the soil as the roots can get more food and water. I usually let the
first frost hit, then cut the leaves off and let the bulb rest for at
least 8 weeks before planting again. Take good care of the plant during
the summer as it takes about 4 big healthy leaves to build the bulb up
to bloom again.
Another plant I
have seen in many “Christmas sales” is the Anthurium sp. also called
Flamingo Flower or Pig Tail Plant. The blooms are fun, usually bright
red or pink with the tail straight or curled. They may bloom almost all
year around if happy. They like a most, humus rich soil, in full or
partial shade. If eaten they can cause a mild stomach ache and skin
contact with the sap will irritate the skin.
one of the most common plants I see in homes.
The books say 5 feet tall but in low light, I have seen it reach
the ceiling and bend over to grow along the ceiling.
It is not a flowering plant but loved for its big dramatic
leaves. The stems are thick.
The tops can be cut off and with the help of growth hormones, start a
new plant. Or you can cut it off to about 4 inches and a new plant will
arrive. It likes light shade and damp soil.
Those big leaves need “foliage plant fertilizer” on a regular
basis. Diffenbachia is
poisonous in all parts. The
sap can irritate the skin so it is best to wear gloves when working with
this plant. Its nickname is “Dumbcane” because of its affect on
mouth and tongue if chewed. It does not like temperatures under 60
Next time I
will have an article on “Houseplants Part 2” and later
“Houseplants Part 3”. For more information about “Houseplants”
go to the Lancaster County Extension website at “http://lancaster.unl.edu/hort/Houseplants.shtml”
Some of the articles
you will find that can be printed off include:
You can find
more at: “http://www.ianrpubs.unl.edu/search”
Have a Happy