By Pat Naughton
December is a great time to bring greenery indoors for holiday decorations. Be selective about which plants you use for decorations. Certain plants can be hazardous to pets and people. One plant to avoid is oleander. Oleander is popular in this area because of its high salt and drought tolerance. All parts of this plant are poisonous if eaten. The sap from this plant can cause serious burns in people who are particularly sensitive to it. Other plants that can be highly toxic if eaten include azaleas, winter daphne, and Carolina jessamine. Carolina cherry laurel should be avoided, the wilted leaves of this plant produce cyanide when ingested.
Plants with berries should be used with caution. The berries of all hollies, including native yaupon and American holly, are reported to cause vomiting, nausea and diarrhea if eaten in large quantities. Holly berries are not a major concern unless small children ingest a large quantity. The bright red berries from a Nandina plant are often used in Christmas decorations. These berries are not poisonous to humans but can be harmful to cats. You may want to avoid Nandina berries if you have curious cat.
Another plant that is popular during the holidays is mistletoe. Its leaves and berries are reported to be toxic if eaten in quantity. A small sprig of mistletoe hanging out of reach of children and pets should not be problem.
There is a safe alternative to these plants right in front of your house. Yaupon is a very popular low growing evergreen shrub in Brunswick County. Yaupon is also known as yaupon holly or Christmas berry. Yaupon grows in sandy soils and is found in areas of mild winters and hot humid summers. Yaupon was so prevalent on Oak Island near Caswell Beach that the town of Yaupon Beach was incorporated there in 1955. The small red fruit of yaupon is an important food for birds. Although the fruit can induce nausea and vomiting in humans, the leaves can be used to make tea. Yaupon is the only USA plant that contains caffeine. Best of all yaupon is a perennial plant that can survive a couple of decades in the wild.