Have no fear of growing plants in your home; most are perfectly safe. But if you have inquisitive children and pets who may want to chew or crush plants, there are a few varieties to avoid: the handful of plants that can cause allergic skin irritations, stomach upsets, or worse.
Some plants are more toxic than others. The good news is that most must be consumed in large quantities to cause any real damage. Often the bitter taste repels a child or pet and stops them from ingesting much of the plant.
If you suspect that a child or pet has been poisoned by eating or touching a houseplant, call your doctor or veterinarian, go to an emergency room, or call the 24-hour National Capital Poison Center at 800-222-1222.
Use care when growing and displaying these common poisonous plants in your home. This is not a comprehensive list; contact your local Extension Service for more information.
(Narcissus selections): Many spring bulbs, including hyacinths and daffodils forced for indoor blooms, are toxic if eaten by humans or pets. Eating the bulbs (which can be mistaken for shallots or onions) can cause intense stomach problems, high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, and even death.
(Dieffenbachia selections): This popular houseplant grows in low-light conditions. It's earned one of its common names, dumb cane, because of the symptoms that occur when it's eaten. The sap causes the tongue to burn and swell, enough to block off air to the throat. It can be fatal to both humans and pets if ingested in large amounts.
(Lilium longiflorum): Cats have been known to suffer serious damage after eating Easter lilies. Eating small amounts of any part of the plant can lead to a cat's death from kidney failure if not treated by a veterinarian within 18 hours. The plant is not poisonous to children, but they can choke on pieces of it.
(Hedera helix): Large quantities of ivy must be ingested to cause serious problems, but all parts of English ivy can cause symptoms that include skin irritation, burning throat after eating the berries, fever, and rash.
(Nerium oleander): All parts of oleander, a popular indoor flowering shrub, are extremely poisonous. Wear gloves and wash your hands when pruning and taking cuttings to be sure you don't accidentally ingest the sap. It can be fatal if eaten.
(Spathiphyllum selections): A popular low-light houseplant, the peace lily is toxic only if large quantities of the leaves are eaten.
(Philodendron selections): No other group of plants is as widely used indoors as philodendrons, but they are poisonous to humans and pets. Eating them can cause burning and swelling of lips, tongue, and throat; vomiting; and diarrhea.
(Epipremnum aureum): A close relative of philodendron, pothos is just as easy to grow, but unfortunately causes the same symptoms of philodendron if ingested.
(Cycas revoluta): One of the oldest living plants on earth, sago palm may have survived so long because animals don't eat it. All parts of the plants, including the seeds and roots, are poisonous. Ingesting sago palm causes vomiting and diarrhea, and may lead to liver failure.
(Zamioculcas zamiifolia): The drought-tolerant ZZ plant is a wonderful addition to low-light situations in homes and offices, but all parts of this plant are poisonous. Keep it away from children and pets, and wash your hands or wear gloves if you need to handle it.