(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on December 8, 2007. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)
Poinsettias: For many years, this popular beauty was thought to be extremely toxic. However, recent studies have shown that, while ingestion certainly isn’t recommended, eating the leaves certainly won’t cause instant death, although it could cause sickness. In any case, it’s best to keep poinsettias out of reach from curious kids and pets. One last warning: be careful when handling poinsettias. They are part of the euphorbia family, and the milky sap can cause a poison ivy-like reaction on the skin.
Jerusalem Cherry, Bittersweet, Helleborus niger (Christmas rose), Mistletoe, Laurel, Yew: All are highly toxic (especially the berries, when present) and should definitely be kept well away from children and pets.
Holly: The greatest danger isn’t the pointy-sharp leaves (although those are a nuisance), it’s eating the bright red berries, which can result in extreme stomach and intestinal problems. If decorating with holly, be sure the berries are either out of reach or plucked off the plant and discarded.
Pyracantha: If large amounts of berries are eaten, a stomach-ache may result, however most experts say it is safe for decorating use during the holidays.
Rosary Pea or the Jequirity Bean: The bean has been commonly used in Mexico for jewelry-making, but the plant has been used in India and Africa as both a human and an animal poison. There is no harm if the beans are swallowed whole, but can be life-threatening if they are chewed prior to swallowing.
Ivy: Several different types of ivy can be toxic, including English ivy.
Of course, Christmas trees can bring a whole host of hazards into your home. Needles on live trees can become brittle and sharp if the tree isn't kept properly watered. (A dry tree is obviously a terrible fire hazard too.) Also, keep tinsel away from small children and pets. Don't use breakable tree ornaments if kids and claws could potentially break them. Avoid those sharp metal ornamental hangers as well.
As always, be smart about positioning plants around your house. Toddlers with a penchant for trouble can eat potting soil containing toxic fertilizer, or swallow pebbles just big enough to be choked on. Also, don’t put heavy plants where they could be knocked over and subsequently fall on a child or pet. Lastly, discourage dangling vines that kids or pets can pull on or get tangled in during a rambunctious moment…because you know the holidays bring plenty of those.