The plants recommended in this blog are known to be non-toxic to children, but not necessarily pets. If you suspect a child has ingested part of a plant and are unsure of its toxicity or if they are experiencing symptoms of poisoning, call the Poison Control Center right away.
Houseplants can boost our moods and beautify our homes, but they have the potential to be dangerous to babies and young children.
Some plants are best kept away from children for obvious reasons, such as the sharp spines of a cactus or the tipping hazard of a large, top-heavy pot. But youngsters can also eat leaves, flowers, or fruits from houseplants, not understanding the possible dangers. Many houseplants produce toxic compounds which evolved to discourage insects and larger herbivores from eating them. These compounds can cause various levels of reaction in children, from slight tingling of the mouth and lips to severe gastric upset or worse.
The Missouri Botanical Garden’s William T. Kemper Center for Home Gardening shares the following tips of keeping children safe around houseplants, as well as a list of plants non-toxic suitable for homes with children, and toxic plants to keep out of their reach.
- Always know the scientific name of your houseplants. If you discover your child has eaten a few leaves off one of your succulents, the exact name of the plant is a crucial piece of information for your child’s health care provider as well as poison control center operators. Do not rely on the common name alone to identify a plant. Many plants that are not closely related share the same or similar common names, and these unrelated plants may have very different levels of toxicity. A plant’s scientific name is typically made up of two Latin words, the first being the genus name and the second being the specific epithet. Both of these parts are necessary to accurately identify a plant, but even just knowing the genus name can be very useful during a possible poisoning scenario.
- Even if you only keep non-toxic, child-safe plants in your house, it is important to teach your little one the importance of never eating non-food plants. As your child grows up and is allowed more outdoor time with less supervision, it is important for them to understand that plants and fungi can be dangerous and should not be eaten. Even familiar looking mushrooms and berries could be highly toxic. And just like children can develop allergies to certain foods, your child may have an allergic reaction to a certain plant, even if that plant is considered non-toxic. Teaching children from a young age that plants, both indoors and outdoors, are best left alone can help keep them safe.
- The exact toxicity of every cultivated houseplant is not known. Reports from poison control centers, analysis of the chemicals contained in a plant’s tissues, and toxicity studies using mice or rats are useful tools, but not every plant has received such thorough research. When in doubt, it is best to keep plants of unknown toxicity out of reach of children.
Christmas cactus (left) and Thanksgiving cactus (right) are not considered harmful if ingested. Photos from the Missouri Botanical Garden’s PlantFinder.
10 common houseplants that are not considered harmful if accidentally ingested by a child:
Some common houseplants are known to cause adverse reactions if consumed by children. The most common symptoms are redness, itchiness, or tingling sensation of the lips, tongue, and mouth, and gastrointestinal upset. A more severe reaction may cause swelling of the mouth or throat which can restrict breathing and warrants immediate emergency medical attention. How severe an individual’s reaction will be to any of the following plants depends on how sensitive they are to the particular plant and how much of the plant is consumed. Many children who sample a bit of leaf from a houseplant will find it to be unpalatable and will not continue eating it.
The Center for Home Gardening recommends keeping these plants out of reach of children:
Active toxin: terpenoid saponins
Potential danger: Most concentrated in young foliage and berries, the toxins can irritate the skin and if ingested cause a burning sensation and gastrointestinal upset.
Active toxins: terpenes and diterpenes
Potential danger: The milky sap exuded from the crushed leaves and stems of members of this genus has the potential to irritate the skin, eyes, and mucous membranes. If ingested, the sap can cause irritation of the digestive tract.
Plants from the Araceae (arum) family, which include:
Active toxins: calcium oxalate crystals
Potential danger: All members of the Araceae family produce calcium oxalate crystals in their leaves and stems. These tiny crystals will puncture and irritate soft tissues, causing pain, swelling, and burning of the lips, mouth, and throat.
Especially harmful plants should not be kept in households with children. Those include:
Active toxins: calcium oxalate crystals, proteolytic enzymes, and other toxins
Potential danger: Considered to be the most toxic of all the houseplants in the Araceae family. Chewing the leaf or stem tissue of this plant will cause immediate pain in the mouth. Ingesting it will cause burning, swelling, and irritation of the mouth, throat, and vocal cords. Sap from cut stems can irritate the skin, eyes, and mucous membranes.
Active toxins: cardiac glycosides
Potential danger: Highly toxic. Ingestion of the leaves can cause irritation of the mouth and throat, gastrointestinal upset, abdominal pain, dizziness, irregular heart rate, and reduced circulation. Severe poisonings are not common because the leaves are extremely bitter.
Horticulturist, William T. Kemper Center for Home Gardening