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Common Poisonous Houseplants: Home

Leaf of Monstera deliciosa or Swiss Cheese Plant; photo courtesy of Flickr cc/ Ewan Roberts
Leaf of Monstera deliciosa or Swiss Cheese Plant; photo courtesy of Flickr cc/ Ewan Roberts

Ingestion of household plants by children under age five is one of the leading reasons for inquiries to poison control centers nationwide. The best treatment for poisoning is to prevent it from ever happening. Teach children not to taste or play with or eat non-food plants both indoors and outdoors.

There are many houseplants which are perfectly safe to grow, but as lovely and harmless as others may appear, they can be toxic and/or dangerous in other ways. It is important to be as knowledgeable as possible about the plants growing in your home.

Chemicals concentrated in the cells of roots, leaves, bark and seeds serve as the plant's defense against insect and animal attack. Some of these compounds can be toxic, especially if ingested or touched by humans, and can result in adverse reactions.

A few plant families to be wary of include: the poinsettia family (Euphorbiaceae), the philodendron family (Araceae), the cactus family (Cactaceae) and the tomato family (Solanaceae). Dumb-cane (Dieffenbachia), in the Araceae family, has plant parts which contain oxalate crystals. If ingested these can cause the tongue to swell so severely that breathing stops. Crown of thorns (Euphorbia), a succulent in the Euphorbiaceae family, has toxic sap which can be quite irritating to the skin. Among the most poisonous are the compounds found in castor bean (Ricinus communis) and oleander (Nerium oleander), which can be deadly if ingested.

PLEASE FOLLOW THESE STEPS TO ELIMINATE RISK OF POISONING

In case of emergency

If a plant has been ingested, identify the plant, learn how much was eaten, contact the poison control center, watch for adverse symptoms, and bring the plant with you if you are advised to go to the nearest hospital emergency room. Always know the national poison control center contact number. (1-800-222-1222)

Plant identification

Learn which houseplants are poisonous and to what degree. The national poison control center can provide information on poisonous plants.

Be sure to properly identify and label houseplants with a tag on the branches rather than a stake that can be easily removed. It is important to note that plants often have several common names but only one botanical name. Contact the nearest botanical garden, cooperative extension service, retail nursery or florist for assistance in proper plant identification, or research horticultural books.

Exposure to poisons

Exposure to poison is caused by ingestion of plant parts and/or by contact with the skin. Ingestion of plant parts can cause internal poisoning or heart or kidney failure. Skin contact can produce unpleasant symptoms such as dermatitis and allergic reaction. Brushing against sharp prickles, spines and thorns can also be extremely painful.

Safe display of houseplants

Do not grow potentially toxic houseplants within easy reach of a child. Understand which plants are safe to grow and display indoors.

Preparedness

Teach children not to taste or play with or eat non-food plants both indoors and outdoors.

Even though some plant parts will have a bitter, unpleasant taste, be prepared for emergencies with first aid supplies handy (a bottle of syrup of ipecac to induce vomiting). The poison control center will coach you on proper administering.

POISON CONTROL CENTERS

COMMON POISONOUS HOUSEPLANTS

Botanical Name

Common Name

Toxic Part(s)

Symptoms Produced

Anthurium
flamingo flower
all plant parts contain calcium oxalate
intense irritation of mucous membranes produces swelling of tongue, lips and palate
Caladium
caladium
all plant parts contain calcium oxalate
intense irritation of mucous membranes produces swelling of tongue, lips and palate
Clivia
clivia
all plant parts contain licorine
ingestion produces nausea and diarrhea
Dieffenbachia
dumb cane
all plant parts contain calcium oxalate
intense irritation of mucous membranes produces swelling of tongue, lips and palate
Epipremnum syn. Scindapsus
devil's ivy
all plant parts contain calcium oxalate
intense irritation of mucous membranes produces swelling of tongue, lips and palate
Euphorbia pulcherrima
poinsetta
milky latex sap contains terpenes and diterpenes
latex causes nausea, diarrhea, vomiting and irritation if swallowed. Skin contact results in severe dermatological irritation
Hedera
ivy
leaves and berries contain hederin, a saponin
ingestion produces burning sensation in throat and gastroenteritis
Hippeastrum
amatyllis
bulbs contain licorine
ingestion causes nausea and diarrhea
Myrtus communis
myrtle
all plant parts contain tannin and volatile oils
ingestion causes nausea and diarrhea
Monstera
Swiss cheese plant
leaves contain calcium oxalate
intense irritation of the mucous membranes produces swelling of tongue, lips and palate
Nerum oleander
oleander
all parts contain glycosides
one leaf is fatal and will disrupt heart function, trigger circulatory failure and lead to death
Oxalis
oxalis
all parts contain oxalic acids
ingestion causes nausea and kidney inflammation
Philodendron scandens
heart-leaf philodendron
all parts contain calcium oxalate
intense irritation of the mucous membranes produces swelling of tongue, lips and palate
Polyscias
aralia
all parts contain saponins
ingestion causes vomiting, loss of coordination and other symptoms
Schefflera syn. Brassaia
Australian Umbrella Tree
all parts contain oxalic acid and saponins
ingestion causes vomiting, loss of coordination and other symptoms
Solanum capiscum
Jerusalem cherry
fruit contains solanine, a highly toxic glycoalkaloid
ingestion causes burning sensation in mouth and throat, followed by gastric irritation, fever and diarrhea
Spathiphyllum
peace lily
all plant parts contain calcium oxalate
intense irritation of the mucous membranes produces swelling of the mouth, lips and palate
Syngonium
arrowhead vine
all plant parts contain calcium oxalate
intense irritation of the mucous membranes produces swelling of the mouth, lips and palate

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