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 these answers. Let’s look first at the ones that may be a problem.

          The Ornamental 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.    

          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 Africa so should never go below 50 degrees F. A very interesting plant, the stems twist as they grow. The lower part of the stems store water during the rainy season, and it drops its leaves during dry seasons and waits for rain.  This makes it a very slow grower with gorgeous white blooms edged in bright red. Summer it spends outside in full sun in its pot of “Cactus Mix”.

          Among the 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 Southern United States. I usually have one in my south window in winter until it gets too big. It does not bloom in a pot, but its big, beautiful, many colored leaves brightens up the winter.

          Amaryllis bulbs (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.

                   Next time I will have an article on “Houseplants Part 2” and later “Houseplants Part 3”. For more information about “Houseplants” contact  your local County Extension office or you can good articles at: and “”.

Have a Happy Holiday!!!

Copyright 2016