Interior Decorating Information

Are Your Houseplants Safe?

There is nothing more attractive and cheerful than a room filled with healthy green houseplants. They offer aesthetics to the interior of our homes, improve indoor air quality, and often provide emotional satisfaction to the caregiver in getting the plant to bloom or produce new growth. However, did you know that plant exposures are some of the most frequent poisonings reported to poison control centers?

There are more than 700 species of poisonous plants in the United States and many of these can be found around the home. According to the American Association of Poison Control, poisonous plants are among the three most common causes of accidental poisoning in children under 5 years old.

Some or all parts of a plant can be poisonous including the roots, stems, berries or even the nectar and pollen. There are several chemical compounds capable of poisoning that can be found in a variety of plants. Chemicals concentrated in the cells of roots, leaves, bark and seeds serve as the plant's defense against insects and animal attacks. Some of these compounds can be toxic, especially if ingested or touched by humans.

The word "poisonous" generates many kinds of reactions and the majority of them are non life-threatening. Among the key effects of poisonous plants are allergic reactions (caused by spores, pollen, or naturally occurring volatile compounds emitted into the air by plants), skin rash or dermatitis (caused by direct or indirect contact with allergenic or irritant compounds), and internal poisonings or irritations (caused from ingesting plants or plant parts).

There are many houseplants which are perfectly safe to grow and others which appear harmless but are toxic and dangerous. It is important to be as knowledgeable as possible about the plants you have growing in your home. According to the Washington Poison Center, the following houseplants (listed by common name) are considered safe and non-toxic, but still should not be ingested:

? African Violet
? Aluminum plant
? Birds Nest Fern
? Boston Fern
? Cast Iron plant
? China Doll
? Christmas Cactus
? Coleus
? Corn plant
? Dracaena
? Gardenia
? Goldfish plant
? Jade plant
? Mosaic plant
? Orchids
? Peperomia
? Piggyback plant
? Pink Polka-dot plant
? Ponytail plant
? Prayer plant
? Purple Velvet plant
? Spider plant
? Swedish Ivy
? Sword Fern
? Yucca plant
? Zebra plant

The Washington Poison Center reports the following houseplants (by common name) to have some level of toxicity and therefore are considered to be toxic and/or poisonous. Also listed are the parts of the plant that can be toxic and what effects it has on humans if ingested.

Caladium: a showy plant with variegated, heart-shaped leaves. The whole plant is injurious and causes irritation to the lips, mouth, and throat if ingested. This plant can also be dangerous for animals if ingested.

Calla Lily: a flowering plant with smooth-edged arrow-shaped leaves which grow on long stalks. The leaves are toxic and cause intense burning of the lips and mouth if ingested. Contact dermatitis is also common.

Devil's Ivy: a climbing vine with large heart-shaped leaves that are usually streaked with yellow. The whole plant is toxic and causes a burning sensation in the mouth when eaten and dermatitis when touched.

Dumb Cane: tall, erect plants with large oblong leaves splotched with ivory markings. The leaves are toxic and chewing on the leaves produces immediate and intense pain followed by swelling of the mouth.

Jerusalem Cherry: an ornamental houseplant that has bright red berries about the size of cherries. The leaves and berries are toxic and causes a burning sensation in the mouth and throat, followed by gastric irritation and fever if ingested.

Philodendron: climbing vines with aerial roots and heart-shaped leaves. The leaves are toxic and cause painful burning of the lips, mouth, tongue, and throat if ingested. Contact dermatitis is also common and can be dangerous to animals if ingested.

Children under the age of six are at the greatest risk for accidental poisoning. They are curious by nature and often investigate their surroundings by putting things in their mouths. Obviously, the best prevention of plant poisonings is to teach your child to avoid the plants that are dangerous to touch and to resist the urge to taste even the most tasty looking berries and sweet smelling flowers. Below are five more suggestions to help you and your family avoid possible plant poisonings:

1. Learn the names (common and scientific) of all plants in your home, garden, and landscaping and know which ones are poisonous. Make a list of these plants and keep it handy in case of an accidental poisoning.

2. Put all poisonous houseplants out of the reach of children and pets.

3. Stored labeled bulbs and seeds out of the reach of children and pets.

4. Do not use flowers or other plant materials for food decorations or in cooking unless they are labeled "edible".

5. Don't assume a plant is safe because birds or other wildlife eat it.

No matter how careful we are, accidents can and do happen. It is important to place the Poison Control Hotline phone number (800-222-1222) near the telephone so you can reach them quickly in the event of an accidental poisoning. To better assist the poison experts, you will need the common and/or scientific name of the plant in question. If at any time you are in doubt about a particular houseplant, take it to your local nursery or garden center for identification and what possible toxic characteristics the plant may have. Finally, the above lists name just a few of the non-toxic and toxic plants that exist today. You should consult the appropriate reference books or poisonous plant guides for a complete list. To research non-toxic and toxic plants on the internet, visit or visit

Lesley Dietschy is a freelance writer and the creator/editor of The Home Decor Exchange and the Home & Garden Exchange. The Home Decor Exchange is a popular home and garden website featuring resources, articles, decorating pictures, free projects, and a shopping marketplace. The Home & Garden Exchange website is a link exchange program and directory dedicated to the home and garden industry, as well as offering free website content and promotional ideas. Please visit both websites for all of your home, garden, and website needs.

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