Christmas Plants and Their Toxicity to Dogs

Christmas plants and pets

During the Christmas period, many homes are decorated with plants. Knowing which ones are safe and which ones are potentially dangerous can save pet owners an emergency trip to the veterinarian. This list includes some of the most common Christmas plants and includes the toxic properties.

Although many of the plants are labelled non-toxic, ingestion of large amounts of any plant matter can cause gastrointestinal upset.

Related: Caring for a Christmas tree

Holly

Holly

FamilyAquifoliaceae
Botanical nameIlex spp.
Common namesEnglish holly, European holly, Christmas holly, Holly, Holm, Hulst, Hulver
Mature height1.5 to 24 metres (5 to 80 feet)
Flower colour
White
Leaf colour
Dark green
Native toEurope, North Africa and western Asia
ToxicityToxic to dogs
Toxic compoundsSaponin glycosides, methylxanthines, and cyanogens plus the leaves cause mechanical injury when chewed
Toxic partsAll parts (the highest concentration in young leaves and berries)
SeverityMild to moderate

Holly is a genus of over 400 species of evergreen and deciduous trees, shrubs, and climbers native to Europe, North Africa and Western Asia. The shiny, stiff leaves are ovate or oblong with wavy, spiked or smooth margins. White flowers are produced in late spring to early summer, followed by attractive red fruit (commonly referred to as berries) in winter.

Mistletoe

Mistletoe

FamilyLoranthaceae, Viscaceae, or Eremolepidaceae
Botanical namePhoradendron serotinum (North American) and Viscum album (European)
Common namesAmerican or European Mistletoe
Mature height90 cm
Flower colour
White
Leaf colour
Green
Native toEurope, North Africa and western Asia
ToxicityToxic to dogs
Toxic compoundsPhoratoxin, gamma-aminobutyric acid, phenols, phenethylamines, phenylpropanoids, polysaccharides, and flavonoids
Toxic partsAll parts of P. serotinum are toxic, all parts of V. album apart from the berries
SeverityMild to moderate

Mistletoe is a hemiparasitic plant that takes its nutrients from its host plant. It is most commonly associated with Christmastime and ‘kissing under the mistletoe‘.

The white berries of mistletoe are eaten by birds, the seeds of which release a sticky substance called viscin which passes out of the bird’s body via the feces and sticks to trees where they germinate in spring.

Rosemary

Rosemary bush

FamilyLamiaceae
Botanical nameSalvia rosmarinus
Common namesEnglish holly, European holly, Christmas holly, Holly, Holm, Hulst, Hulver
Mature height1.5 metres
Flower colour
Purple
Leaf colour
Dark green
Native toMediterranean
ToxicityNon-toxic
Toxic compounds
Toxic parts
Severity

Rosemary is a perennial, evergreen shrub grown for its fragrant needle-shaped leaves that are popular as a culinary herb. It grows clusters of pale purple flowers during spring and summer.

Rosemary is used to create wreaths and topiaries during the Christmas period.

Christmas cactus

Christmas cactus

FamilyCactaceae
Botanical nameSchlumbergera bridgesii
Common namesChristmas cactus, Holiday cactus
Mature height15 – 30 cm
Flower colour
Pink, red,  orange, gold, cream, and white
Leaf colour
Green
Native toSoutheastern Brazil
ToxicityNon-toxic
Toxic compounds
Toxic parts
Severity

Christmas cactus is a flowering succulent native to south-eastern Brazil. These winter flowering succulents commonly grown for their bright flowers that grow on the tips of pendant shoots made up of oblong and flattened segments. The blooms last approximately 7 weeks and grow in a range of colours including red, pink, orange (salmon), yellow and white.

Poinsettia

Poinsettia

FamilyAraceae
Botanical nameEuphorbia pulcherrima
Common namesPoinsettia, Christmas flower, Winter rose, Painted leaf, Lobster plant, Crown of the Andes, Flower of Christmas Eve
Leaf colourGreen
Flower colourRed, pink, and white
ToxicityToxic to dogs
Toxic properties Diterpenoid euphorbol esters and saponins
Toxic partsAll parts
Level of toxicityMild

Poinsettia is a perennial shrub native to southwestern Mexico and Guatemala. The common name is derived from the physician and botanist Joel Roberts Poinsett (March 2, 1779 – December 12, 1851). Joel was the first Minister to Mexico from 1825 to 1829 and while serving, found the poinsettia growing near Taxco and sent cuttings to South Carolina in 1828.

Spanish Franciscan priests in Mexico began using poinsettias in the Fiesta of Santa Pesebre nativity procession. Poinsettias begin to bloom in October, which signals the impending arrival of Christmas. The red poinsettia bracts represented the blood of Christ. Californian poinsettia farmer Paul Ecke Sr. sold poinsettia flowers during winter. Paul Ecke Jr. would further promote the poinsettia by providing live plants as displays for talk shows and women’s magazine displays at Christmastime.

Ivy

English ivy

FamilyAraliaceae
Botanical nameHedera spp.
Common namesIvy, English ivy, Branching ivy, Glacier ivy, Needlepoint ivy, Sweetheart ivy, California ivy
Leaf colourGreen
Flower colourYellow/green
ToxicityToxic to dogs
Toxic properties Triterpenoid saponin and polyacetylene compounds
Toxic partsAll parts
Level of toxicityMild

A genus of 12 to 15 evergreen vines native to Eurasia and North Africa. Ivy is a popular indoor ornamental plant as well as a climbing vine that covers walls and buildings when grown outside.

The most common species of ivy is English ivy (Hedera helix), which is found throughout the world.

Hippeastrum

Hippeastrum

FamilyAraceae
Botanical nameEuphorbia pulcherrima
Common namesPoinsettia, Christmas flower, Winter rose, Painted leaf, Lobster plant, Crown of the Andes, Flower of Christmas Eve
Leaf colourGreen
Flower colourRed, pink, and white
ToxicityToxic to dogs
Toxic properties Diterpenoid euphorbol esters and saponins
Toxic partsAll parts
Level of toxicityMild

A flowering bulb native to Central and South America, the Hippeastrum is popular for its large, trumpet-shaped flowers. Hippeastrum is a popular indoor bulb that flowers for 3 to 4 weeks during the Christmas period.

Amaryllis is often used when describing Hippeastrum, but they are different plants. Hippeastrum is a genus made up of 90 species and 600 hybrids and cultivars of flowering bulbs native to the Caribbean, Mexico and South America. This showy plant is commonly sold as an indoor flowering plant during the Christmas period. Amaryllis is a flowering bulb native to South Africa made up of two species, A. belladonna and A. paradisicola. Flowers on a single leafless stem in autumn, hence the name ‘naked lady‘. At the top of each stem is a cluster of six or more trumpet-shaped flowers most commonly in pink. A month or so later, the strappy foliage appears, lasting through winter before dying back.

Christmas rose (hellebore)

Hellebore

FamilyRanunculaceae
Botanical nameHellebore spp.
Common namesHellebore, Christmas rose, Lenten rose
Leaf colourGreen
Flower colourRed, pink, white, purple, yellow
ToxicityToxic to dogs
Toxic properties Bufadienolides, glycosides, veratrin and prtoanemonin
Toxic partsAll parts
Level of toxicityModerate

Hellebore is a flowering evergreen perennial native to southern Europe. It is a popular plant for ornamental gardens because it flowers during winter. The dense foliage forms clumps and the large, open flowers bloom from early winter until spring, providing colour.

Balsam fir

Balsam fir

FamilyPinaceae – Pine
Botanical nameAbies balsamea
Common namesBalsam fir, Blister Pine, Balm of Gilead fir
Leaf colourGreen
Flower colour
ToxicityNon-toxic
Toxic properties
Toxic parts
Level of toxicity

First described in 1768 by English botanist and gardener Philip Miller, balsam fir is an aromatic tree native to Northeastern America and eastern Canada, popular for its highly scented blue/green foliage. Balsam fir grows at a rate of 30 cm (12 inches) per year.

Fraser fir

FamilyPinaceae – Pine
Botanical nameAbies fraseri
Common namesHickory pine, White spruce, Green spruce, Silver spruce, Colorado spruce
Leaf colourGreen
Flower colour
ToxicityNon-toxic
Toxic properties
Toxic parts
Level of toxicity

Fraser fir is a popular choice for a Christmas tree due to its pyramid shape, fresh fragrance and soft needles. Named after Scottish botanist John Fraser, the Fraser fir is native to the Appalachian mountains of the eastern United States and is a close relative to balsam fir.

Douglas fir

Douglas fir

FamilyPinaceae – Pine
Botanical namePseudotsuga menziesii
Common namesDouglas fir, Oregon fir, Oregon pine, Oregon, Green Douglas fir,
Blue Douglas fir, Red pine, Columbian pine, Common Douglas, Coast Douglas-fir
Leaf colourGreen
Flower colour
ToxicityNon-toxic
Toxic properties
Toxic parts
Level of toxicity

Douglas fir is a medium to fast-growing evergreen conifer native to the western region of North America. The delicate citrus scent, thick, soft needles, pyramidal shape and strong branches make it an ideal Christmas tree.

Norway spruce

FamilyPinaceae – Pine
Botanical namePicea abies
Common namesCommon spruce, European spruce, Christmas tree
Leaf colourGreen
Flower colour
ToxicityNon-toxic
Toxic properties
Toxic parts
Level of toxicity

The fastest-growing of all the Christmas trees, Norway spruce (Picea abies) is a large, coniferous tree native to Eurasia. Norway spruce is loved for its beautiful pine scent, layered branches and shapely form and is widely cultivated in North America to cater to the Christmas tree market. The wood is also used in the paper, construction and lumber industries.

White spruce

White spruce

FamilyPinaceae – Pine
Botanical namePicea glauca, Picea alba
Common namesWhite spruce, Black hills spruce, Canadian spruce
Leaf colourGreen
Flower colour
ToxicityNon-toxic
Toxic properties
Toxic parts
Level of toxicity

White spruce (Picea glauca) is a coniferous evergreen native to the United States and Canada. The compact conical shape and short blue-green needles make white spruce a popular choice. The waxy needles have a waxy white coating (hence the name glauca, which means shimmering), and are quite sharp. As a plus, this is likely to deter dogs from chewing the tree.

Blue spruce

FamilyPinaceae – Pine
Botanical namePicea pungens
Common namesHickory pine, White spruce, Green spruce, Silver spruce, Colorado spruce
Leaf colourGreen
Flower colour
ToxicityNon-toxic
Toxic properties
Toxic parts
Level of toxicity

Blue spruce (Picea pungens) is a slow-growing, compact evergreen conifer native to North America. The shape of blue spruce is pyramidal, with short, somewhat prickly, stunning silvery-blue needles making it one of the most popular Christmas trees.