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Keep These Houseplants Away from Pets and Kids

Not all plants are safe if you have pets, older adults with dementia in the home, or curious toddlers who might actually eat the one green food you don’t want them to eat.

We previously told you about the potential mental and physical health benefits of greenery and plants at home and work. But not all plants are safe if you have pets, older adults with dementia in the house, or curious toddlers who might eat the one green food you don’t want them to eat. For example, as Christmas Day draws near, you’re likely seeing more poinsettias, the trademark red flower of the season. Poinsettias aren’t life-threatening as once believed. But they can cause mild rash, gastrointestinal problems (vomiting, diarrhea, nausea), or eye irritation in people and animals. In addition, they can have more severe effects on those with an allergy to poinsettias, which frequently includes people with existing allergies to latex, bananas, avocados, chestnuts, kiwis, or passion fruits. 

So what are the plants to watch out for, then? Below is not a comprehensive list, but we’ve noted some of the more common or popular plants that could cause harm and possible alternatives. If a child or anyone else ingests one of these plants, contact Poison Control immediately at 1-800-222-1222. If your pet eats these plants, contact the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control at 888-426-4435. 

Plants noted as “extremely toxic or toxic” can cause severe illness or death. “Mildly toxic” plants can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and mouth or throat irritation if ingested but aren’t fatal. Moderately toxic plants cause more severe effects than mildly toxic ones but rarely, if ever, cause death. If humans, dogs, or cats aren’t specified, the toxicity level applies to all three.

Keep These Houseplants Away from Pets and Kids

  • Arrowhead plant/vine (Syngonium): mildly toxic to all
  • Caladium, or Angel wings: toxic to all
  • Dieffenbachia (“Dumb cane”): moderately toxic to all
  • Ivy (Hedera): mildly toxic to humans; toxic to cats and dogs
  • Lilies: moderately toxic to humans and dogs; toxic to cats
  • Mother-in-Law’s Tongue: moderately toxic to all
  • Oleander: extremely toxic to all
  • Peace lily (Spathiphyllum): toxic to all
  • Philodendron: mildly toxic to humans; toxic to cats and dogs
  • Pothos or Devil’s ivy (Epipremnum): toxic to all
  • Sago palm (Cycas revoluta

Mildly or Moderately Toxic

The plants below can be mildly or moderately toxic to humans and our four-legged companions. 

  • Agave
  • Aloe vera (though this plant is certainly acceptable—and recommended—for topical application for burns)
  • Amaryllis
  • Asparagus fern 
  • Azalea
  • Bay laurel
  • Begonia
  • Cardboard palm
  • Calla Lily
  • Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema)
  • Chrysanthemum
  • Clivia
  • Daffodil
  • Dracaena
  • Easter lily
  • Elephant ears (Colocasia)
  • English ivy
  • Fiddleleaf fig (Ficus lyrata)
  • Geranium
  • Hyacinth
  • Jade plant (Crassula
  • Kalanchoe
  • Latana (also toxic to livestock)
  • Poinsettia
  • Rubber plant (Ficus elastica)
  • Snake plant (Sansevieria)
  • Swiss cheese plant (Monstera deliciosa)
  • Tulip
  • Umbrella plant (Schefflera)
  • Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia)
  • Spider plant, spider ivy, or ribbon plant (Chlorophytum comosum)
  • Spiderwort (Tradescantia)
  • Yew
  • ZZ plant (Zamioculcas)

Alternatives to Toxic Plants 

If you like the look of some of the plants listed above but are concerned about young children, older adults, or pets who might ingest some of the plants, we can suggest alternatives to several of the toxic ones.

Instead of:

  • Caladium, try a variegated baby rubber plant or prayer plant
  • Calla lily, try African violet, moth orchid, or Barberton daisy
  • Daffodil, try African violet
  • Dieffenbachia, try variegated baby rubber plant, prayer plant, or cast iron plant
  • English ivy, try pot marigold
  • Hyacinth, try pot marigold (Calendula)
  • Lily, try Christmas cactus
  • Oleander, try African violet, wax plant, moth orchid, or Barberton daisy
  • Peace lily, try African violet, wax plant, moth orchid, or Christmas cactus
  • Philodendron, try Baby rubber plant, prayer plant, areca palm, or parlor palm
  • Pothos, try Swedish ivy or peperomia
  • Sago palm, try Boston fern
  • Snake plant, try cast iron plant 
  • Tulip, try African violet, pot marigold, or Barberton daisy

Despite the less toxic recommendations above, remember that any plant may cause an allergic reaction in a person or pet who has an allergy to a substance in that plant. In addition, ingesting enough of many different plants can cause mildly toxic symptoms even if the plant does not usually have some toxic effects. 

For pets in particular, it’s worth looking at the ASPCA’s extremely comprehensive site of plants that have any level of toxicity for dogs, cats, or horses. Conveniently, you can filter according to each of those different animals individually to see only the plants toxic to, for example, horses. The ASPCA also provides printable lists of toxic and non-toxic plants for dogs, cats, and horses

For a more in-depth discussion of toxicity in house plants, see the sources below that we relied on for this article:

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