Are Your Houseplants Poisonous?Indoor plants bring a touch of the garden into your home, plus they can help improve air quality and humidity levels. Houseplants also may defuse stress and reduce sickness. With all the positive qualities plants afford, it’s easy to overlook what can be a more sinister side.

In some plants, toxicity lurks quietly beneath a pretty exterior. Different houseplants disperse toxicity through different means, such as sap from broken stems, contact with leaves or, more frequently, ingestion. While it’s unlikely you’ll get an urge to taste-test your houseplants, you should be aware of potential toxicity of your greenery if you share living quarters with young children, elderly parents with dementia, or pets.

Toxicity Types

Symptoms of plant toxicity vary from a mild rash, to vomiting, to diarrhea, to blindness, to heart arrhythmia, to paralysis, to – in the rarest cases – death. Different people may react to plant compounds differently, similar to an allergic reaction. Where one person develops inflammation that lingers, another may only have a mild rash that quickly dissipates. In other cases, the reaction is consistent among all individuals.

The most typical houseplant toxicity reaction is dermatitis – some kind of rash that might also feature stinging, burning, redness or itchiness. Another large group of houseplants contains calcium oxalate crystals. Eating a leaf from these plants is similar to chewing a piece of fiberglass. The crystals stab you, producing pain and swelling in the mouth, tongue, throat and stomach. Strongest reactions involve breathing difficulties. Some plants possess a stronger toxicity that interferes with breathing, heart rhythms, or nerve or kidney function.

With many plants, to suffer the most severe reaction, you’d have to ingest a huge portion of a plant (or several plants). For instance, amaryllis bulbs are poisonous, producing nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, but the majority of a bulb would have to be consumed to produce symptoms.

Other plants, like poinsettia, have been wrongly labeled as poisonous when, in fact, they aren’t. While some individuals may have an allergic reaction to the sap, most don’t. Poinsettias do, however, belong to a plant family that contains strongly toxic members, like the lesser candelabra tree , which causes a toxic reaction if you merely smell the vapors from a cut or broken stem.

Minimize Toxic Reactions

Whether you’re watering, repotting, or simply admiring your houseplants, take precautions to protect yourself against toxic reactions.

  • Wear disposable gloves when pruning or repotting.
  • Always wash your hands after handling plants. If you have a plant that you know elicits a dermatitis reaction, wash your hands several times.
  • Keep plants out of reach of young children and pets.
  • Instruct children never to place leaves, flowers or seeds in their mouths.
  • Dispose of water you have used for fresh cut flowers or rooting cuttings. (Some plants infuse water with poison.)
  • Post the poison control number in an easily visible spot: 1-800-222-1222 for children as well as adults; 1-800-213-6680 for the Pet Poison Helpline (a $35 fee applies).

Toxic Plants

Common Name Scientific Name Part That’s Toxic Toxicity/Symptom1
Desert rose Adenium obesum All parts of plant Heart arrhythmia, nausea; sap used as arrow poison in Africa
Agave Agave Leaves (contain calcium oxalate crystals) Pain and swelling; leaf spine punctures produce pain and swelling that lingers for hours to days
Asparagus fern Asparagus densiflorus All parts of plant, especially berries, sap Sap produces dermatitis; ingestion causes nausea, vomiting, cramping; berry ingestion very harmful to children
Angel’s trumpet Brugmansia All parts of plant Rapid heartbeat, seizures, fever, coma, death
Dumb cane Dieffenbachia Leaves (contain calcium oxalate crystals) Immediate swelling of mouth and throat; speech impediment can occur and linger for days
Devil’s ivy2 Epipremnum (also Scindapsus) Leaves (contain calcium oxalate crystals) Swelling of mucous membranes – mouth, tongue, throat
Pencil cactus Euphorbia tirucalli Sap Bleeding sores on skin; in eyes, temporary blindness to permanent eye injury
English ivy Hedera helix Leaves Vomiting, breathing issues, convulsions, paralysis, coma; dermatitis rare, but when it occurs can be severe (weeping blisters)
Oleander Nerium oleander All parts
highly toxic
Arrhythmia, death; ingesting one leaf can cause death; roasting marshmallows on woody stems from plants causes sickness
Philodendron Philodendron Leaves (contain calcium oxalate crystals) Mouth, etc., pain and swelling; also, skin irritation if handling plants for extended periods. Known to affect cats, sometimes to the point of death. Not recommended for homes with felines.
Jerusalem cherry Solanum pseudocapsicum Leaves, immature
& mature fruit
Vomiting, fever; can be fatal to children
Peace lily Spathiphyllum Leaves (contain calcium oxalate crystals) Swelling of lips, tongue, throat; dermatitis from root sap
Calla lily Zantedeschia aethiopica Leaves Intense burning of lips and mouth; dermatitis; reported to be fatal to children

1 It’s safe to assume similar symptoms with dogs and cats. Documented toxicities to pets are listed. With reptiles, if you’re looking for plants to include in an enclosure, avoid plants that cause dermatitis when working with larger animals that could lie on plants and crush them, releasing toxins to skin.

2 Similar symptoms produced by ingesting Chinese evergreen , butterfly plant , Anthurium and Caladium.

Safe Plants

Common Name Scientific Name
Bromeliad Aechmea, Guzmania, etc.
Ponytail palm Beaucarnea recurvata
Wax begonia,
tuberous begonia
Begonia rex-cultorum
Orchids Cattleya, Dendrobium, Oncidium, etc.
Spider plant Chlorophytum comosum
Ti plant Cordyline fruticosa
Haworthia Haworthia
Tropical hibiscus Hibiscus rosa-sinensis
Prayer plant Maranta leuconeura
Boston fern Nephrolepis exaltata ‘Bostoniensis’
African violet Saintpaulia ionantha
Christmas, Thanksgiving,
Easter cacti
Schlumbergera, Zygocactus
Palms Exception: Burmese fishtail palm (Caryota mitis)