Poisonous houseplants – harmful to people
Many people believe that Poinsettias or Christmas plants, are deadly toxic, among the worst (if not the only) poisonous houseplant, which is pure urban legend.
Poinsettias are not poisonous.
However, poinsettias and all their euphorbia relatives CAN cause some people to get a rash if they handle these plants, so wear rubber gloves to groom or repot your poinsettia. Just brushing against the plant (for example, when watering) isn’t a danger.
- Crown of Thorns is another euphorbia to be cautious about. Also known as Christ’s thorn plant, if handled it causes a rash and if eaten, pain and vomiting.
- Mother of Thousands or devil’s backbone, a member of the kalanchoe family, is an interesting houseplant because new plantlets grow along its leaf edges, and these are just about irresistible to little children and nibbling pets. Eating this plant can be fatal. Absolutely keep it out of the reach of pets and toddlers.
- Be cautious with all kalanchoe Leaves and stems in many varieties are toxic.
- Castor bean plant is the most dangerous plant on this list, deadly if eaten. If you have one of these, I suggest you evict it.
- All azaleas and all rhododendrons are poisonous houseplants if their leaves are eaten.
- Angel’s trumpet is a pretty flowering houseplant, but, as a relative of deadly jimson weed, you really shouldn’t have it unless you are very careful, or don’t live with children or pets. Eating this one will make anyone (or any animal) seriously ill.
- Always store spring flower bulbs in a separate place from where you keep onions. It may sound far-fetched, but it has happened – people can mistake an amaryllis bulb for an onion, eat it, and suffer various stomach woes as a result.
- The bulbs, leaves and flowers of daffodils contain arsenic. Safe to handle but toxic if eaten.
- Wear rubber gloves when you plant hyacinth Handling the bulbs causes a painful itchy rash.
- Chew on dieffenbachia, also known as dumb cane, and you will lose your voice, possibly for several days. The sap also causes a skin rash.
- English ivy is a pretty, easy-to-grow plant. But eating it causes breathing difficulties and can cause convulsions and coma.
- Dwarf varieties of hydrangea have become popular container garden and house plants. But eating the buds or leaves can cause vomiting, breathing difficulties and coma. You can also get a rash from handling hydrangeas.
- Pretty but poisonous oleander is toxic if handled or eaten. Another one that is best avoided.
- Split-leaf philodendron or Swiss cheese plant is a tropical with leaves that are toxic. Loss of the ability to speak, intense itching, and blisters are just a few of the miseries to come for anyone who eats the leaves.
- Aloe vera is the plant we keep in kitchens because the sap soothes and helps heal minor burns. But be careful – it is the inner sap, the clear jelly, that is the healer.
- Aloe also has a yellow juice in the outer part of the leaf, just under the green skin, that can cause a rash. Young plants and newer leaves have more of the useful inner sap, and less of the bad yellow stuff, than larger, older leaves and more mature plants, so you might want to pitch your old aloe and replace it from time to time.
Poisonous houseplants – Protect dogs and cats (and other small pets) from these:
- Bulbs of flowering plants, particularly amaryllis and daffodils
- Poinsettia isn’t poisonous, but it can cause a mouth rash
- Angel’s trumpet
- Azaleas and all Rhododendrons
- Caladiums causes stomach upset, inflamed mouths and throats if the leaves are chewed.
- Castor bean plant
- Crown of thorns and all euphorbias
- Devil’s backbone and all kalachoes
- Devil’s ivy or pothos causes dogs’ and cats’ lips to swell if they eat it.
- Dieffenbachia or dumb cane causes the chewer to lose his or her voice for a few days.
- English ivy or hedera
- Flamingo lily
- Swiss cheese plant or Split-leaf philodendron
Where to find more information about toxic houseplants & poisonous houseplants
This article does not include the complete list of every possible plant that could be poisonous to pets (a very long list, including many obscure plants you probably will never see). What I have included are the most easy-to-grow and popular houseplants, the ones you likely will see in the stores and want to have.
For more extensive information about nasty plants:
- The ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) offer this searchable database of all plants that are harmful to pets helpfully including pictures of the plants.
- Information about every poisonous plant that grows in Canada, listed by both common and Latin names and also giving specific information about each plant’s toxic effects is provided by Canadian Biodiversity Information Facility (a department of the Federal government).
- There is a useful list of common houseplants and outdoor plants that are a hazard for cats, produced by FAB, Feline Advisory Bureau, a not-for-profit in England dedicated to the wellbeing of cats.
Poisonous houseplants – how to live with them safely
With just a few simple precautions, you can keep kids and plants or pets and plants healthy, happy, and safe from each other. And also protect yourself.
- Wear rubber gloves when you handle hyacinth bulbs, daffodil bulbs, poinsettias, English ivy, dieffenbachia, hydrangeas or oleander.
- Use only the inner jelly of aloe vera plants to treat minor burns.
- Get poisonous houseplants off the floor or low tables where little children and pets can get to them. Put them on top of bookcases or on higher shelves, safely out of reach.
- Once you’ve moved plants to a safe distance from kids and pets, don’t stress about this. Plant poisoning is surprisingly rare, given the huge popularity of both having plants and having kids and/or pets. But if you’re worried, get rid of the worrisome plant. There are plenty of completely safe plants to choose from.
- You may be able to teach a pet not to nibble plants, but this can be endlessly frustrating (both for you and the pet) and just not worth the stress. I have never managed to get our own plant-chewing cat to mend her ways. We’re both happier since I changed tactics.
If your dog chews on plants, check that he is getting the right food (and hasn’t just eaten something awful he found outside). Dogs aren’t naturally vegetarians, but they will often try to eat grass (or the closest thing they can find) when they have stomach pain. You might need to talk to your vet. Your dog might be telling you he needs different food, more exercise, or more attention.
Rather than struggle endlessly over (this just makes everyone upset), give your cat something she can safely chew on. Grow catgrass, very easy to do from seed. Or let your cats nibble on a spider plant. Safe for furry and though the plant might not end up looking very pretty, it doesn’t hurt it.