Houseplants are, in the main, attractive to look at, smell nice, and keep the home feeling cheerful. It is important to remember though, that most houseplants are tropical in origin, and have varying degrees of toxicity.
The list below gives the common names of toxic house plants, the parts to avoid, and the adults, children, and animals who may be affected, and what symptoms to check for.
- Aloe Vera – the gel found inside the plant is well known as a soothing balm for cuts and abrasions, but the yellow juice found in the plant, especially older specimens is a skin irritant which can affect people who suffer from dermatitis.
- Amaryllis – this plant is grown for its pretty autumn bloom, and its irritant is found in small quantities in its bulbs. Large amounts of bulbs ingested can cause nausea and vomiting – usually limited to curious pets.
- Flamingo Lilly – all parts of this plant are toxic, but ingestion is usually limited because the release of the plants’ juices causes irritation in the mouth.
- Angel’s Wings – another plant which advertises its toxicity by causing severe irritation in the mouth when eaten.
- Chrysanthemum – this highly popular houseplant does have toxic leaves and stalks that can cause dermatitis after prolonged exposure – usually only florists and gardeners are at serious risk.
- Cyclamen – a beautiful flowering plant whose toxic parts are only its roots, and large amounts must be ingested to cause ill effects. Curious and determined pets only are at risk.
- Angels Trumpet – this spectacular flower has been known to cause death to humans and animals that have ingested any of its parts. Agitation followed by hallucinations and coma are symptoms of which to be aware.
- Crown-of-thorns – Legend suggests that this is the plant that comprised Christ’s crown of thorns, but it is a native of Madagascar, and unknown in Christ’s time. The latex in the plant irritates eyes, and its ingestion causes nausea and stomach upsets.
- Poinsettia – believe it or not this most popular houseplant has toxic latex, leaves and stems. Its undeserved reputation comes from the death of a child in Hawaii who ingested a single leaf. The toxin is now acknowledged to be mild, causing dermatitis and sever vomiting in the strongest reactions.
- English Ivy – ingestion has caused fatalities in humans, cattle, dogs and sheep. Dermatitis is a rare reaction, but can be sever, giving weeping blisters which do respond to treatment. Berries are bitter, and unlikely to be ingested in large quantities.
- Hydrangea – ingestion of the leaves and buds can cause nausea and vomiting. Contact dermatitis may be an effect on sensitive individuals who come into regular contact with the plant.
- Devil’s Backbone – the juvenile plants fall from the main stems and are found at ground level, and can look attractive to pet rabbits, dogs, cats, and children. The toxins in the leaves and stems can be fatal to small animals, and cause nasty gastric reactions in children.
- Swiss-cheese-plant – eating of the leaves by pets can be fatal, and curious children will suffer immediate and painful blistering of the mouth and loss of voice. Sensitive individuals who eat the fruit will experience intense itching.
- Heartleaf philodendron – ingestion of the leaves and juices cause inflammation and itching in the skin.
- Rhododendrons – although a low toxicity plants, they are best kept away from children and pets.
- Jerusalem Cherry – with its attractive cherry fruit, this plant is a magnet for children and pets that will experience nausea and vomiting if they eat the ‘cherries’.
Although the list of popular plants and their unpleasant hidden qualities is extensive, you should not be put off from buying, rearing, and enjoying their colours and scents.
Common sense dictates that you make sure small children and pets don’t eat or chew plants or fruits that look like they might taste nice.
Some plants warn against further investigation immediately with juices and sap that irrigate the mouth, but others make their presence felt after a few hours in the form of stomach upsets and vomiting.
Remember, only really large ingestion of toxic plant parts is likely to be dangerous, and the symptoms will have advertised themselves in plenty of time.
If you suspect a child or animal may have eaten something from the list above, contact your GP or vet for immediate advice, but be safe not sorry – keep your plants out of the reach of little hands and mouths.
Everyone can enjoy houseplants, even toxic ones, as long as they are left alone, and not eaten!