Mistletoe is a very popular plant during the Christmas holidays, but why? The Vikings and the Druids each have separate legends surrounding this unusual plant. The Norse god Balder was the best loved of all the gods. His mother was Frigga, goddess of love and beauty. She loved her son so much that she wanted to make sure no harm would come to him. So she went through the world, securing promises from everything that sprang from the four elements in that they would not harm Balder. But, Loki, a sly, evil spirit, found the loophole and the loophole was mistletoe. Mistletoe appears to grow without roots or nourishment. He made an arrow from its wood. He took the arrow to Hoder, Balder's brother, who was blind. Guiding Holder's hand, Loki directed the arrow at Balder's heart, and he fell dead. Frigga's tears became the mistletoe's white berries. In the version of the story with a happy ending, Balder is restored to life, and Frigga is so grateful that she reverses the reputation of the offending plant by making it a symbol of love and promising to bestow a kiss upon anyone who passes under it. Mistletoe was used by the Druid priesthood in a very special ceremony held five days after the new moon following winter solstice. The Druid priests would cut mistletoe from a holy oak tree with a golden sickle. The branches had to be caught before they touched the ground. Celts believed this parasitic plant held the soul of the host tree. The priest then divided the branches into many sprigs and distributed them to the people, who hung them over doorways as protection against thunder, lightning and other evils. The folklore, and the magical powers of this plant, blossomed over the centuries. A sprig placed in a baby’s cradle would protect the child from faeries. So it’s most likely a combination of the customs and the cultures became the tradition of the kiss under the mistletoe at Christmas.
Mistletoe is a parasitic plant that grows high in the branches of hardwood trees. I have seen it in the swamp of the Altamaha River in coastal Georgia and was amazed at just how high. There are two species of mistletoe used at Christmas time, American (Phoradendron sp.) or European (Viscum album) mistletoe. Both are members of the Viscaceae plant family, while most tropical mistletoes belong to an entirely different plant family. American mistletoe is highly toxic. Both types of mistletoe are evergreen plants with green oval-shaped leaves, white flowers, and whitish-pink berries. Despite its plant-like appearance, mistletoe is in fact a hemi-parasite. Mistletoe does contain some chlorophyll and can photosynthesize most of its own nutrients, but siphons off certain nutrients and water from its host plant. Mistletoe can grow on more than 100 different shade trees and evergreens, including ash, birch, cherry, elm, maple, oak, sycamore, walnut, willow, cypress and juniper.
Mistletoe is spread by birds, which eat the berries and then excrete the seeds. When a seed makes contact with a branch on the potential host, it begins to develop a pseudo-root system that burrows into the host plant, usually the branch of a large tree. Cultivation of American or European mistletoe is usually not very successful. American mistletoe is considered a pest and extremely undesirable. Multiple mistletoe infections, as they are called, will eventually kill the host plant.
Most experts say that all parts of the plant can be toxic, though it is the berries that are particularly dangerous. It has been associated primarily with stomach upset (nausea, vomiting and diarrhea). There have also been cases reported of mild drowsiness, eye irritation, ataxia, seizure and choking after aspiration of berries. It is important to keep this holiday beauty out of the reach of small children and pets, and to pick the leaves and berries up off of the floor immediately, if they fall.
17 Plants that Will Kill Your Cat and Why Poinsettias Won't
It's possible that poinsettias get the bummest rap in all of the plant world. They've got a bad-girl reputation as deadly beauties, but is the ubiquitous holiday plant actually toxic? About 70 percent of the population will answer yes, and although every year there is a bumper crop of stories explaining otherwise?the myth persists. In reality, ingestion of excessive poinsettia may produce only mild to moderate gastrointestinal tract irritation, which can include drooling and vomiting, kind of like drinking too much brandied eggnog. The poor poinsettia, so misunderstood.
It all started back in the early part of the 20th century when the two-year-old child of a U.S. Army officer was alleged to have died from consuming a poinsettia leaf. As these things have a habit of doing, the toxic potential of poinsettia has become highly exaggerated and many a cat-keeper now treat poinsettias as persona non grata (or, as the case may be, poinsettia non grata) in their households. Keeping this plant out of the reach of your pet to avoid stomach upset is still a good idea, but according to the ASPCA, you need not banish the poinsettia from your home for fear of a fatal exposure.
So poinsettias, consider yourself absolved. As for the other holiday fave, Mistletoe has the potential to cause cardiovascular problems (and not just from forced smooches), however, mistletoe ingestion usually only causes gastrointestinal upset. But there are other common household plants that have been reported as having some serious systemic effects and/or intense effects on the gastrointestinal tract on animals.
The ASPCA's list of 17 top toxic plants to steer your kitty away from
Lilies. Members of the Lilium family are considered to be highly toxic to cats. Many types of lily, such as Tiger, Asian, Japanese Show, Easter, Stargazer, and the Casa Blanca, can cause kidney failure in cats. While the poisonous component has not yet been identified, it is clear that with even ingestions of very small amounts of the plant, severe kidney damage could result.
Marijuana. Ingestion of Cannabis sativa by companion animals can result in depression of the central nervous system and incoordination, as well as vomiting, diarrhea, drooling, increased heart rate, and even seizures and coma, even if they don't inhale. But cats can get all the same fun without the buzz-killing side effects from marijuana cuz, catnip!
Sago Palm. All parts of Cycas Revoluta are poisonous, but the seeds or "nuts" contain the largest amount of toxin. The ingestion of just one or two seeds can result in very serious effects, which include vomiting, diarrhea, depression, seizures and liver failure.
Tulip/Narcissus Bulbs. The bulb portions of Tulips and Narcissus contain toxins that can cause intense gastrointestinal irritation, drooling, loss of appetite, depression of the central nervous system, convulsions and cardiac abnormalities.
Azalea/Rhododendron. Members of the Rhododenron family contain substances known as grayantoxins, which can produce vomiting, drooling, diarrhea, weakness and depression of the central nervous system in animals. Severe azalea poisoning could ultimately lead to coma and death from cardiovascular collapse.
Oleander. All parts of Nerium oleander are considered to be toxic, as they contain cardiac glycosides that have the potential to cause serious effects: including gastrointestinal tract irritation, abnormal heart function, hypothermia and even death.
Castor Bean. The poisonous principle in Ricinus communis is ricin, a highly toxic protein that can produce severe abdominal pain, drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, excessive thirst, weakness and loss of appetite. Severe cases of poisoning can result in dehydration, muscle twitching, tremors, seizures, coma and death.
Cyclamen. Cylamen species contain cyclamine, but the highest concentration of this toxic component is typically located in the root portion of the plant. If consumed, Cylamen can produce significant gastrointestinal irritation, including intense vomiting. Fatalities have also been reported in some cases.
9 more toxic plants to keep away from your cat, including chrysanthemums and ivy. Kalanchoe. This plant contains components that can produce gastrointestinal irritation, as well as those that are toxic to the heart, and can seriously affect cardiac rhythm and rate. Yew. Contains a toxic component known as taxine, which causes central nervous system effects such as trembling, incoordination, and difficulty breathing. It can also cause significant gastrointestinal irritation and cardiac failure, which can result in death. Amaryllis. Common garden plants popular around the holidays, Amaryllis species contain toxins that can cause vomiting, depression, diarrhea, abdominal pain, hypersalivation, anorexia and tremors. Autumn Crocus. Ingestion of Colchicum autumnale by pets can result in oral irritation, bloody vomiting, diarrhea, shock, multi-organ damage and bone marrow suppression. Chrysanthemum. These popular blooms are part of the Compositae family, which contain pyrethrins that may produce gastrointestinal upset, including drooling, vomiting and diarrhea, if eaten. In certain cases depression and loss of coordination may also develop if enough of any part of the plant is consumed. English Ivy. Also called branching ivy, glacier ivy, needlepoint ivy, sweetheart ivy and California ivy, Hedera helix contains triterpenoid saponins that, should pets ingest, can result in vomiting, abdominal pain, hypersalivation and diarrhea. Peace Lily (AKA Mauna Loa Peace Lily). Spathiphyllum contains calcium oxalate crystals that can cause oral irritation, excessive drooling, vomiting, difficulty in swallowing and intense burning and irritation of the mouth, lips and tongue in pets who ingest. Pothos. Pothos (both Scindapsus and Epipremnum) belongs to the Araceae family. If chewed or ingested, this popular household plant can cause significant mechanical irritation and swelling of the oral tissues and other parts of the gastrointestinal tract. Schefflera. Schefflera and Brassaia actinophylla contain calcium oxalate crystals that can cause oral irritation, excessive drooling, vomiting, difficulty in swallowing and intense burning and irritation of the mouth, lips and tongue in pets who ingest.
What do do? Should your cat eat part of a poisonous plant, promptly bring your cat to your veterinarian. If you can, take the plant with you for ease of identification. If you think that your animal is ill or may have ingested a poisonous substance, contact your local veterinarian or the ASPCA 24-hour emergency poison hotline directly at 1-888-426-4435.