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Dr Green

Doctor, are my houseplants poisonous?

Dr Green

Words by Dr Green

Photos by Jaap Scheeren

Hello Dr Green,

I live with 2 explorers. One 2 year old child and one 3 year old cat. They both spend an unreasonable amount of time inspecting my plants. I’ve caught them both on separate occasions trying to chew the leaves off my climbing philodendron. Besides it causing me great annoyance, I’ve heard that these plants are poisonous. Is this true? Should I be more careful with them?

Worried, Isabelle (30)

Hi Isabelle,

Yes, it’s true. Plants are often poisonous. They don’t have legs! How else would they protect themselves from predators?

Look at cacti, thistles and stinging nettles. These are all equipped with an obvious form of protective armour. Whereas others produce something a little more subtle – a chemical – which can have serious consequences if ingested.

The plant you own (philodendron scandens) belongs to the Araceae family, which contains one of the highest number of poisonous plant species. The Elephant Ear (Alocasia Calidora), Devil’s Ivy (Epipremnum aureum), Swiss Cheese Plant (Monstera Deliciosa) and the Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum) are all popular houseplants and part of this family. So take note (!), as these plants contain tiny crystals of calcium oxalate called Raphides which, if consumed can cause burning and swelling of the lips, tongue and throat, vomiting and diarrhea. Facial swelling can block the airways and can occasionally be fatal. Other signs you should watch out for in animals include drooling and foaming at the mouth.

So. If I were you I’d move your philodendron out of reach from your cat and your toddler, ASAP. And perhaps invest in a couple of non-poisonous plants so your household explorers can continue their research. The Prayer Plant (Maranta leuconeura), Spider Plant (Chlorophytum comosum) and Swedish Ivy (Plectranthus verticillatus) are all pet and child-friendly and will make a great addition to your living room.

If you are still worried about encountering poisonous plant species, have a read of Encyclopedia Brittanica’s list of the world’s deadliest plants.

And take care!

The Doc.


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