by Matt Gibson
Having plants in your home can bring a lot of benefits to your space. Houseplants are aesthetically pleasing, they help to purify the air, and some can even be grown to use in the kitchen to enhance your favorite recipes. There are plants that are cultivated for their medicinal value, and some are known for their delightful fragrance. Some houseplants, however, should come with a warning label.
While houseplants may be pretty to look at, there are a surprising number of plants used to decorate interiors that you may not realize are toxic to both children and pets. Even elderly people with dementia could be at risk of poisoning themselves with these common houseplants. So, if you live in a house with children, pets, or an elderly family member, you may want to check to make sure none of your houseplants are on this dangerous list so that you can take precautions like putting any offenders up high or otherwise out of harm’s way—or get them out of your house entirely.
Commonly used as a decorative plant at Christmas, the poinsettia is actually quite poisonous. Its bright red flowers and sharp, pointy leaves make it a holiday favorite, and the poinsettia is often called upon to decorate the home for holiday festivities and given as a Christmas gift. However, many recipients may not realize that if poinsettia is ingested by children or adults, it can cause nausea and vomiting, and symptoms may be worse for small pets. Even the sap of the poinsettia can cause skin irritation if you get too close. Be sure to put your poinsettias in a safe location this holiday season to protect your loved ones and pets.
Another holiday favorite, the peace lily is commonly seen around Easter. This lovely spring flower features delicate white flowers and dark green leaves. If ingested, all parts of the peace lily are poisonous to humans, dogs, and cats alike. You will want to keep Easter lilies completely out of the reach of small children and pets of any size.
Our warning doesn’t just apply to Easter lilies. Lilies of any kind, in fact, are dangerous to cats, so beware of keeping any species of lily in a feline-friendly home. The lily of the valley, recently popularized when it was used as a poison by Walter White’s character on the popular AMC drama Breaking Bad, is an especially dangerous lily. If lily of the valley is ingested and the patient does not receive treatment from medical professionals, ingestion of its delicate little bell-shaped flowers can even kill.
Pothos Ivy, or Devil’s Ivy, is commonly grown indoors as a houseplant because of its variegated foliage, ease of care, and air purification capability. In fact, pothos is commonly touted as one of the best plants for removing toxins from the air. Pothos is propagated by cuttings, so it’s commonly given away as a gift.
Ingesting pothos ivy in small quantities is only mildly harmful to humans, but consuming a large amount can have very serious consequences. Pothos also becomes more dangerous when it’s eaten by pets. Children and adults who ingest pothos ivy may experience vomiting, upset stomach, diarrhea, burning of the mouth, skin irritation, and swelling of the lips, tongue, and throat. Pets could experience drooling, choking, difficulty breathing, swelling of the mouth and tongue, upset stomach, and even kidney failure or death.
Perhaps one of the most common houseplants in the world, philodendron is easy to grow and maintain, which has played into its popularity. This lovely green houseplant is also very toxic, containing calcium oxalate crystals, which can cause harm to humans and animals.
The philodendron comes in two distinct forms: vining and non-vining. The vining version of philodendron should be trimmed regularly, taking extra care to trim both its leaves and its tendrils. The vining philodendron should also be hung far out of the reach of children and pets. Non-vining plants should be kept on high window sills or shelves—unless you have a very athletic cat, in which case, you should consider not keeping philodendron in your home at all.
While most cases of philodendron ingestion by humans have only led to mild side effects, such as swelling in the mouth and digestive tract and a skin reaction similar to dermatitis, a few rare cases of death have been reported in children who ingested large amounts of the plant.
Popularized because of its exotic appearance and ability to purify the air, the sago palm has become a go-to houseplant and conversation piece in living rooms across the world. These unique-looking, spiky little plants are highly toxic, however, and can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and can even liver failure.
The unique color pattern of the variegated leaves of the arrowhead plant, or goosefoot plant, has made it a popular choice for indoor gardeners. However, if you have small children or pets, you may want to reconsider keeping this one around. The arrowhead plant’s sap is highly toxic and can cause skin irritation and vomiting. Fully grown plants are tough to keep out of the reach of kids and pets because they tend to shed their leaves. Even if you position your arrowhead plant up high, chances are, its leaves are going to end up within reach of curious kids or pets. If you share your space with either, it’s best to leave this one at the nursery.
The gel on the inside of the aloe vera plant is great for cuts, scrapes, and burns. However, though it’s not as widely known, the skin, or outer layer, of the aloe plant is highly toxic and can lead to serious skin irritation. Aloe vera is also poisonous to both cats and dogs. Aloe vera can be particularly harmful to animals because pets are prone to chewing up whole pieces of the plant, both the bad and the good parts, which can lead to symptoms such as upset stomach, vomiting, depression, and more.
The tall spikes of the snake plant, also called good luck plant, viper’s bowstring, St. George’s sword, or mother-in-law’s tongue, are a common sight in the modern home. Though snake plant is not dangerous to humans, pet-friendly homes should steer clear of adding these to the decor. Those impressive leaves can become a favorite snack of dogs and cats, and their toxicity can cause acute cases of vomiting and nausea when pets get hold of the plant.
The jade plant is a pretty succulent that’s perfect for a pet-free home. If you have pets, though, you’ll want to put this one up high in a hard-to-reach location, as jade can be deadly to cats and dogs if they ingest it in large amounts.
Dieffenbachia (Dumb cane)
The dieffenbachia plant, often called dumb cane, has the same calcium oxalate crystals make philodendron plants so toxic to pets and children alike. Consuming dumb cane, however, only leads to mild to moderate symptoms, such as swelling and numbing of the throat, extreme mouth pain, salivation and burning sensations. Although the effects are mild to moderate, they are still quite unpleasant.
Deaths have been reported after fully grown adults ingested just a single leaf of oleander, but most reports of harm from consuming the plant come after eating larger amounts. Oleander is highly toxic, but it’s popular with gardeners because it produces beautiful flowers. Keep this one far away from children as they are even more susceptible than adults to being poisoned fatally from consuming oleander. Dogs and cats are not immune to oleander’s effects either, and pets who eat any part of the oleander plant can suffer from heart arrhythmia, vomiting, cold extremities, and even death.
Caladiums, also known as elephant’s ears, or angel’s wings, are commonly used in landscaping and as houseplants. The South African native is available in a variety of foliage colors, so gardeners can enjoy its great big leaves in various shades of red, pink, and green. The caladium flower is a very interesting-looking bloom, somewhat reminiscent of the calla lily. If ingested by humans, caladium can cause swelling in the mouth, lips, and throat, and it can result in blocked airways that can lead to death. Cats and dogs can also suffer similar symptoms, including difficulty breathing, nausea, and vomiting.
This is by no means intended to be a comprehensive list of every plant that could pose a threat to your pets and loved ones. If you are looking for a complete reference, you should do some research online to compile a comprehensive list of dangerous or poisonous plants. You may also wish to do a quick Google check for each type of plant you care for or grow indoors so you’re aware of any potential toxicity.
This article is meant to be a list of the most popular houseplants out there that have potential ill effects, along with a few others that are garden favorites. This article is also designed to shed light on some commonly grown plants that gardeners may not be aware are dangerous to have around pets or small children. Some of the houseplants on this list might just be a lot less popular if people were more knowledgeable about the dangers of pets or children ingesting them.
If you have some of these plants in your home already, we’re not trying to say that you need to give them to someone with no pets or children or that you should throw them out entirely. We’re just suggesting that you may want to move toxic houseplants to a safe location, out of the reach of curious kids or beloved pets, or perhaps consider some alternatives. It’s always better to know what you’re dealing with so that you can decide what’s best for you and your home.
If you have a room or two that are off limits to your pets or children, you might have a quick fix as easy as relocating the plants in question. If your house is an open expanse where pets and children can go wherever they like, pursuing other solutions may be in order. There are a bunch of great plants on this list that are popular for good reason—but there are hundreds of non-toxic alternatives to grow if you have pets or kids who may be at risk.