Indoor plants can bring harmony and enhance homes from acting as points of interest to more practical purposes such as improving air quality and enhancing our mental and physical health. However it's still important to consider how some plants may negatively interact with the homes inhabitants. In this article we look at some ideas surrounding poisonous and toxic indoor plants, some myths and some suggestions to keep in mind.
Many outdoor and wild plants have been grown by humans indoors as houseplants for centuries and over that time, fortunately, the very dangerous plants have not tended to become popular. In fact of all the houseplant profiles we have ever written, only one or two are considered very dangerous and have the potential to be fatal.
It's really important to know that when houseplants are listed as "toxic" or "poisonous" it does not translate into them automatically being deadly. Naturally with some, you do need to take care, but most do minimal damage as the toxicity levels are low and usually only effect people and pets significantly if a lot of the plant is consumed.
Poisonous or toxic houseplants are simply plants which can cause adverse reactions in animals or people. These reactions are fortunately almost always minor such as mouth irritation or an upset stomach. They can of course result in more serious symptoms although this is rare. However, plants can be given away and replaced but people and pets can't, so no one will begrudge you if for peace of mind you decided to give your Sago Palm away after you notice your cat becoming too interested in it.
Out in the wild, plants are normally at a distinct disadvantage because they're rooted in place and can't flee if attacked by a predator. It's generally thought that over time plants evolved to produce certain toxins which are designed to repel animals and people from eating them. Very few plants have evolved to deliberately kill, simply because it would take considerable energy and effort to produce the toxins needed to do this. Why bother doing this when all the plant needs to do is create something much more basic and easier that makes the nibbler feel so unwell that it won't be back for seconds.
There are many non-toxic and non-poisonous houseplants out there, some plants are only mildly so and only a small number are actually deadly. In our plant articles there is a section in the Care Instructions which details if that particular plant is poisonous or not and where relevant we provide a bit more context surrounding this. If you're unsure about whether a houseplant you already own or are looking to buy is "safe", head to our Plant Hub to find out more.
That said, "safe" is a relative term. Tovah Martin who writes for a living and when it comes to houseplants says "I keep it simple: None of your houseplants should be eaten by people or pets". and we really couldn't have put it better ourselves. There are some non-toxic plants that can still cause problems for people and pets such as allergies or physical damage potential from spines or thorns so care needs to be taken. Plus ultimately you don't want your plants to be damaged or even ruined by things eating or playing rough with them.
There is a lot of misinformation out there are that does cause unnecessary worry. An example is the famous Dumb Cane (Dieffenbachia), it has an absolutely terrible reputation as being a highly poisonous and deadly houseplant, but this is wrong. The truth is that Dumb Canes are poisonous, however it rarely kills human or animal. All parts of the plant have lots of microscope needle-shaped calcium oxalate crystals and when some unfortunate animal (or person) eats part of the plant, it ends up with a painful and swollen mouth. In some cases the swelling is so bad it causes the victim to go silent for inability to talk, this is where the common name of Dumb Cane came from. It's rarely fatal and is not more dangerous than many other houseplants.
So yes while many websites and people will tell you its toxic, which is correct, that's not the full story, resulting in people assuming the worst. In fact only a handful of houseplants should cause significant worry and we clearly signpost this in our plant profile articles.
Firstly try to keep calm as it doesn't do you or your pet any good to be frantic. Remember only a few houseplants are very poisonous and the rest that are recognised to be toxic usually require quite a bit to be eaten to be fatal. Typically therefore eating a poisonous houseplant will just result in an unwell pet. The most common symptoms of houseplant poisoning are drooling, confusion, disorientation, vomiting and diarrhea.
However, we'd always suggest being safe then sorry. So if you think your pet has eaten part of an indoor plant, keep calm and try to identify what its eaten and estimate how much of it. Then give your vet a call and explain what's happened, who will advise you of what to do next.
The bad news is that children can sometimes be just as curious as pets when it comes to indoor plants and can easily play with or eat parts of nearby plants. The good news however is that there are very few reported deaths or long term health consequences of children playing or eating houseplants. Of course it goes without saying that you do need to be sensible and ensure you either don't have toxic plants in your home or make sure those which have a possible risk are well out of reach of the child.
If however you suspect a child has come into contact with a toxic plant, find out what it is (ideally you want the Latin name to avoid confusion with plants that share several "common" names). Estimate how much has been eaten and then contact your local health care provider such as your local GP, or hospital for advice.
Credit for Dieffenbachia Camilla - Article / Gallery - LucaLuca