Houseplants play several beneficial roles in our home environment. They provide visual interest to the home, purify the air, and may be edible or medicinal.
Some common plants are a common staple in kitchens, such as aloe vera, which is praised for its easy care, beautiful shape, and soothing gel. However, even such commonly grown and useful plants may be toxic.
Toxic plants can be a hazard to children and pets, as well as to elderly persons with dementia. Whereas it is advisable to keep all plants out of the reach of those who might crush, eat, or taste them, it is not always possible to prevent accidental encounters. If you’re worried your loved ones may ingest your houseplants, you may want to keep the plants in this article out of your house.
Poisoning can occur from:
- Eating or touching leaves
- Ingesting berries, blossoms, or roots
- Skin contact with sap or juices
- Eating soil
- Drinking water from plant tray
Most garden centers don’t provide warning labels on their potted plants noting possible toxicity. Before you purchase that philodendron or lovely lily, learn which common plants can pose the biggest threat to the more vulnerable members of your home.
Plants and Their Toxicity to Humans and Pets
|>Plant||>Toxic to Humans||>Toxic to Dogs||>Toxic to Cats|
Quite possibly one of the most popular house plants, the lovely philodendron is easy to grow. While it is often the perfect complement to any room, it contains calcium oxalate crystals, which are toxic to humans and animals.
The philodendron may be vining or non-vining. It is very important to keep vining plants hung well out of reach of children or pets and to keep tendrils and leaves trimmed. Non-vining plants should be kept on high window sills or shelves.
Humans: In humans, even small children, ingesting philodendron usually has only mild side effects, including a dermatitis reaction and the swelling of the mouth and digestive tract. In rare cases or after ingesting large amounts, there have been fatalities in children.
Cats and Dogs: Philodendron has a much more serious effect on pets, with reports of spasms, seizures, pain, and swelling. It seems to be more toxic to cats.
Pothos Ivy, also called Devil’s Ivy, is recommended for its beautiful variegated leaves, forgiving nature, and air purification abilities. In fact, it is cited as one of the best plants for removing impurities from the air.
It is also easy to propagate from cuttings. Because of this, many people receive these as starter plants or housewarming gifts. They then go on to have several plants rooted from the parent plant.
Pothos is considered to be only mildly harmful in small quantities, but can produce uncomfortable and sometimes serious side effects in animals and people.
Humans: Burning of the mouth, skin irritation, swelling of lips, tongue, and throat, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Cats and Dogs: Drooling, choking, swelling of mouth and tongue, difficulty breathing, and stomach upset. Can lead to renal failure and/or death.
This plant is related to the philodendron and is also easy to care for. It is commonly mixed in dish gardens with other plants that require similar care. Many people receive arrowhead plants as gifts.
Young plants appear bushy with heart-shaped leaves. Older plants produce climbing stems and arrowhead-shaped leaves.
The leaves are constantly shedding and being regrown, so even if this plant is out of reach, it is a good idea to check often for fallen leaves.
Humans and animals: Irritated skin, stomach upset, vomiting.
Lily (and Plants called Lilies)
Few flowers are as beautiful as lilies. From the elegant curved bloom of the calla lily to the seasonal favorite, the Easter lily, these colorful plants are popular indoors and out.
Not all lilies are toxic, and some are more toxic to animals, especially cats, than to humans. If you are aren’t certain what type of lily you have, err on the side of caution and keep lilies either out of reach indoors, or planted away from play areas outdoors.
The more toxic varieties include:
- Calla Lily (which can be fatal to children)
- Easter Lily
- Rubrum Lily
- Tiger Lily
- Day Lily
- Asian Lily
Different lilies will produce different symptoms in pets or humans. Cats are more susceptible to lily poisoning than dogs.
Humans: Stomach upset, vomiting, headache, blurred vision, and skin irritation.
Cats: All parts of the plant are thought to be toxic. Symptoms will include vomiting, lethargy, and lack of appetite. Renal and liver failure could occur and, if not treated, lead to death.
The peace lily, or Spathiphyllum, is not a member of the Liliaceae family, and therefore not a true lily. There are many varieties of peace lily, with the “Mauna Loa” lily being one of the most common indoor ornamentals.
It is an evergreen perennial from South America with glossy leaves and a unique white bloom that rises from a central stalk. They are shade-loving plants, which makes them ideal for apartments and rooms with little sunlight.
They are also excellent air purifiers. Like philodendrons and pothos, however, they can cause painful symptoms and sometimes death if ingested by humans or animals.
Humans: Burning and swelling of lips, mouth, and tongue, difficulty speaking or swallowing, vomiting, nausea, and diarrhea.
Cats and dogs: Information regarding the toxicity of peace lilies is somewhat conflicting, but it is listed on all animal safety sites, including the ASPCA’s as toxic to dogs and cats. Symptoms are recorded as burning mouth, excessive salivation, diarrhea, dehydration, lack of appetite, and vomiting. Left untreated, peace-lily poisoning could lead to renal failure.
The Dieffenbachia is also called dumb cane. This plant is related to the philodendron and contains the same oxalate crystals. Dieffenbachia has thick stems and fleshy leaves that are usually solid green, with the occasional yellow or green markings.
Dumb cane is more likely to be ingested since the large plants are usually kept in pots on the floor or low pedestals. Unlike philodendron, dieffenbachia ingestion usually produces only mild to moderate symptoms in both humans and pets.
Humans and animals: Extreme pain in the mouth, salivation, burning sensation, and swelling and numbing of the throat.
Nerium oleander looks delicate and innocent, but is so toxic that even ingesting honey made from its nectar can produce symptoms.
Deaths in adult humans have been reported with as little as one leaf eaten, but the majority of deaths occur when very large amounts are ingested. Children are more susceptible and should be kept away from Oleander plants.
Humans: Arrhythmia, dizziness, and tremors.
Cats and Dogs: Arrhythmia, vomiting, and cold extremities.
Caladiums are another South American bulb plant with long-lasting foliage. They are popular as houseplants or for outside landscaping. They are also commonly known a elephant’s ears and angel’s Wings.
Caladiums provide a variety of colors, including red, pink, and white, which makes them an attractive addition to collections of greenery. They grow well in low light, and can sometimes be forced to produce interesting blooms similar to those of the calla lily.
All parts of the caldadium are considered toxic to humans and animals.
Humans: Symptoms after ingestion can include: painful burning and swelling of the mouth, tongue, lips and throat, difficulty breathing, speaking, and swallowing, and possible blocked airways that can lead to death.
Cats and dogs: Nausea, vomiting, staggering, head shaking, drooling, and difficulty breathing.
Mother-in-Law’s Tongue, AKA Snake Plant
Another great floor plant, the mother-in-law’s tongue, or snake plant, has leathery, sword-like leaves that earned the plant its sharp name. The sleek, upright shape of the mother-in-law’s tongue can complement an arrangement of softer, bushier plants.
The foliage is a mottled or variegated green with hints of white, yellow, and silver. Due to the belief that it can protect a home from evil influences, the mother-in-law’s tongue is also called a good-luck plant, but it might not be so lucky for pets.
Humans: The toxicity level is low, producing short-lasting symptoms such as mouth pain, salivation, and some nausea. In rare instances, it can produce a dermatological reaction, but is mainly toxic only if ingested.
Cats and dogs: It can cause excessive salivation, pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
NASA recommends using at least fifteen plants in the average home. Here are some top-rated plants for air purification:
• Pothos Ivy
• English Ivy
• Peace Lily
• Weeping Fig
Ivy (often called “English ivy”) is a charming sight when it creeps over stone or brick walls or creates cool, lush carpeting beneath trees. Indoors, ivy is hung from baskets creating a romantic, cascading showpiece.
Ivy is used in holiday decor as wreaths and centerpieces. Ivy not only serves as beautiful and traditional decoration but also removes airborne fecal-matter particles from the air, making it a wonderful asset for homes with pets.
Humans: Ivy can cause severe skin irritation. Ingestion can cause burning in the mouth and throat, stupor, convulsions, fever, and rash. Usually symptoms are only severe if large amounts of the plant are eaten.
Cats and dogs: Diarrhea, hyperactivity, gasping breaths, weakness, tremors, staggering, and vomiting.
Plant Safety Tips
Just because these plants are potentially dangerous doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy them in your home. As long as you take care to follow some basic safety measures, plants, children, and pets can co-exist peacefully.
Here are some ways of reducing exposure to plant toxins:
- Keep plants out of reach or in rooms where children and pets are not allowed.
- Maintain plants regularly and keep debris cleaned up.
- Label pots with the plant name and whether or not it is toxic.
- Wear gloves while handling or wash hands immediately after handling plants that could irritate skin or eyes.
- Don’t discard plant clippings where they can be easily accessed.
- Teach children not to touch plants.
- Trim plants to prevent children and pets from accessing vines. The plants will still reward you with fullness and foliage that purifies the air.
- Don’t forget that plants summering outside can be dangerous to outdoor pets. Hang them high on porches or plant-stands.
- Always keep fresh water for pets so that they aren’t tempted to drink from plant trays. Toxins can leach into the water.
- Use automatic plant waterers or self-watering pots to protect plants from mold, and animals from toxic water.
- To keep cats from accessing plants that are out of reach of children and dogs, try using hanging bird cages to hold the pots. Cages provide extra protection for the plants and a bit of visual interest to the room.
Additional safety tips:
- Keep potting soils and fertilizers out of reach.
- Monitor plants for insects.
- Check pots and soil regularly for mold and mildew
- Replace broken or cracked pots. This is especially important for plastic pots that have been outside in the elements.
- Make sure hanging baskets are sturdy enough to support the weight of the plant.
- Don’t place vining plants where the tendrils are in reach. A child or pet could pull the plant from the shelf by tugging.
- Make sure plant shelves and ceiling hooks are strong enough to support the plant.
- Provide safe plants for cats to eat.
Keep in mind that even non-toxic plants can be a risk.
Children or pets could choke on small berries, leaves, or woody stems. Heavy plants can topple, and sharply pointed leaves can stick or cut the hands or mouth. High shelves and hanging baskets for your plants will keep plants and your loved ones safe from harm, while still affording you the healthy benefits of live plants.
Additional Information on House Plant Toxicity
The purpose of this article is to alert home owners to potentially toxic plants, not to replace medical advice or treatment. For more specific and detailed information on different symptoms of plant poisoning in humans and pets, visit the following links:
- Non-Toxic House Plants For Children, Cats, and Dogs
Plant-related poisonings are the the third leading cause of illness and death in children, and responsible for thousands of pet emergencies each year. Here is a list of plants that will give you both beautiful foliage and peace of mind.
- Gardening With Kids—Fun Plants and Ideas for Children
Are you and your child ready to go outdoors and grow plants? Gardening with children is rewarding for everyone. Explore these ideas for making your kid’s garden magical and educational.
- Poisonous Plants for Cats | petMD
Cats will chew on plants. And, because they love to climb and explore, it is difficult to keep plants out of their reach. Learn to identify plants that are dangerous for your cat.
- Animal Poison Control | ASPCA
If you think that your pet may have ingested a potentially poisonous substance, you can call the ASPCA 24 hours a day. Their Animal Poison Control Center page also has a large database of toxic and non-toxic plants.