Thursday, April 23, 2009

Houseplant Toxicity Week: Part 6 (Safe Plants)

If you have landed on this page because you are concerned about a child or pet who has eaten a plant, seek emergency medical help.

In the U.S., you can call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222 (for children), the ASPCA at 1-888-426-4435 (for pets; $60 consultation fee applies), or the Pet Poison Helpline at 1-800-213-6680 (pets; $35 fee applies)
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Part 6 of a seven-part-and-two-appendix series. (Part 1) (Part 2) (Part 3) (Part 4) (Part 5) (Part 7) (Appendix 1) (Appendix 2 - Index)

Part 6 is for the plants that, as far as I can tell, have never hurt anybody (like Meg Ryan ca. 1990? Maybe Ellen DeGeneres? Edie McClurg? Dianne Wiest?), and aren't capable of it in the amounts that most people or pets would be capable of consuming. It turns out that safety is kind of boring, so this list is a duller read than the others. I tried to insert jokes when I could, but also there's a music video if you're interested:

[Well, it was the video for "The Safety Dance." Alas, the company that owns the music doesn't want you to hear it, lest you enjoy it and think about buying it for yourself or something.]

But let's begin.

Aechmea fasciata.

Aechmea fasciata (silver vase plant) Bromeliads are safe under most circumstances and to most species.
Aeschynanthus lobbianus (lipstick plant) Gesneriads are safe under most circumstances and to most species.
Aeschynanthus speciosus (goldfish plant) Gesneriads are safe under most circumstances and to most species.
Aphelandra squarrosa (zebra plant, saffron spike) The few websites that include this by botanical name list it as safe; most of the ten other "zebra plants" out there are also safe, but it's nice to be told which particular plant is being approved of.
Beaucarnea recurvata (ponytail palm) I'm a little surprised at this one; it just has that toxic look. But there's fairly solid agreement that it's safe.

Begonia NOID. I have yet to find a good explanation for exactly what "Rieger Begonias" are and where they come from.

Begonia spp. (wax begonia, tuberous begonia) (Begonia rex-cultorum) Begonia spp. are essentially safe plants, though the rhizomes and tubers contain calcium oxalate crystals, like the Araceae, and may in theory cause similar pain and inflammation if chewed. If one is overwintering tubers, they should be kept out of the reach of children and animals, but no cases of Begonia toxicity were known to Toxicity of Houseplants, and Begonias are otherwise safe for children and pets, including reptile and amphibian enclosures.
Brassolaeliocattleya cvv. Orchids are safe under most circumstances and to most species.
Calathea spp. including Calathea ornata Plants from the Marantaceae are safe under most circumstances and to most species.
Cattleya spp. Orchids are safe under most circumstances and to most species.

Chamaedorea elegans.

Chamaedorea elegans (parlor palm) True palms are safe under most circumstances and for most species. (Caryota mitis is the notable exception. Other species known as "palms," e.g. the sago palm Cycas revoluta or the cardboard palm Zamia furfuracea, are quite dangerous, but they're also not true palms so they don't count.)
Chamaedorea metallica (metallica palm, miniature fishtail palm) As for Chamaedorea elegans.
Chamedorea seifrizii (bamboo palm) As for Chamaedorea elegans.
Chrysalidocarpus lutescens (areca palm) As for Chamaedorea elegans.

Cissus rhombifolia.

Cissus rhombifolia (grape ivy, oakleaf ivy) A large number of websites list this plant as being of unknown toxicity. Those which commit one way or the other all seem to go with non-toxic, though many of the sites listing Cissus as non-toxic also say a lot of other things are non-toxic, including some plants that I know are toxic. So I don't know. The ASPCA isn't worried about Cissus, several herp sites list it as being a good plant for reptile / amphibian enclosures, and the Vitaceae are generally safe as far as I'm aware, so I'm pretty sure that C. rhombifolia is fine. Even the sites that say it's toxic generally won't go any further than saying maybe you'll have some skin irritation.
Coffea arabica (coffee tree) There's fairly widespread agreement that Coffea arabica is safe, though occupational allergies or skin irritation have been known to occur among people who process coffee beans, which counts, but only just barely. Very young children may get very hyper after eating small quantities of the roasted beans, but this poses little risk to the child's health.1
Columnea spp. Gesneriads are safe under most circumstances and to most species.

Cordyline fruticosa 'Florica.'

Cordyline fruticosa (ti plant) Are in fact actually edible (discussed at some length in the profile), and are occasionally used as a foodstuff in some cultures. Safe except for the remote chance of an allergic reaction.

Crassula ovata. Admittedly not a good picture for trying to comprehend the overall shape and habit of the plant, but I thought it was pretty. And it's not like you can't see overall-shape-and-habit pictures a gazillion other places on line if you really want them.

Crassula ovata (jade plant) All the on-line lists have jade plants down as non-toxic, so I was really surprised to see Handbook cover it. Unfortunately, Handbook declined to say much of anything remotely specific. All they have to say is that it does sometimes irritate the skin, but that's rare, toxicity almost never happens and is never fatal, and we don't know what causes the toxicity when it does happen. So I think this is probably technically toxic, but only barely, and I'm inclined to call it safe for kids and pets: as many of them as are out there, if it could do any real harm, believe me, you'd have heard about it. (Toxicity mentions two studies of calls to poison control centers: in one, Crassula ovata was the second most called about, and in the other, it ranked fourth. The fact that so many people could be calling about it, but it's still getting listed as safe, suggests that it's probably fairly safe.)
Ctenanthe spp. (never-never plant) Plants from the Marantaceae are safe under most circumstances and to most species.
Dendrobium spp. Orchids are safe under most circumstances and to most species.
Ensete spp. (ornamental? banana) Should be safe under most circumstances; I don't know whether the fruit is particularly edible / tasty, though.
Episcia spp. (flame violet) Gesneriads are safe under most circumstances and to most species.

Fittonia albivenis. Sadly, we're out of these at work: I'd intended to get one for Nina, but she's going to have to make do with a Ctenanthe burle-marxii instead, it looks like.

Fittonia albivenis (nerve plant, mosaic plant) Almost universally recognized as safe. Particularly suitable for tropical terraria, as it stays small and can be pruned back as needed.
Fuchsia spp. Allergic reactions are rarely reported, but Fuchsia are otherwise safe. Not very commonly kept indoors.
Gardenia jasminoides (gardenia, cape jasmine) Generally understood to be safe. I did run into at least one source which said that it may cause slight problems for cats and dogs, but that this is not generally life-threatening. I don't know anything more specific than that, because I don't remember what site it was and that was the extent of the notes I took. I'm not sure I even believe it in the first place.
Gibasis geniculata (Tahitian bridal veil) Generally understood to be safe for all species.

Guzmania lingulata NOID.

Guzmania lingulata (scarlet star bromeliad) Bromeliads are safe under most circumstances and to most species.
Gynura aurantiaca (purple passion vine, purple velvet plant) Generally understood to be safe for all species. Some of the commenters at davesgarden.com say that it is poisonous, and davesgarden.com has it flagged as a toxic plant, but almost nobody else does. A closely related species, Gynura crepioides, is not only non-toxic but is actually edible, and goes by the common name of "Okinawan spinach."
Ludisia discolor (jewel orchid) Orchids are safe under most circumstances and to most species. This is a particularly good plant for reptile and amphibian enclosures, as it appreciates the humidity of a tropical terrarium, has attractive coloration, and is slow enough to be more or less manageable.
Haworthia spp. Generally understood to be safe for all species. Suitable for desert reptile enclosures, as it tends to stay a manageable size and has no sharp points or edges.
Hibiscus rosa-sinensis (tropical hibiscus) Actually edible; used as a foodstuff but not very often or by very many people. Occasionally recommended as a good plant for tortoise enclosures: they will eat the leaves and/or flowers.

Believed to be Hoya pubicalyx, though we won't know this for certain until it flowers. Which it's not looking real motivated so far, unfortunately.

Hoya spp. (H. carnosa) (wax flower) Hoya spp. are usually understood to be safe for all species. The nectar from flowers may be toxic if the plant has been treated with a systemic pesticide, but that's about the only time they're dangerous.
Laurus nobilis (bay leaf, laurel) Edible, though there have been some weird stories.2 Toxicity to pets is unclear, but I think it's probably safe.
Lithops spp. (living stones) These are apparently sometimes eaten in their native South Africa, for the water content, so I assume they're probably non-toxic. I mean, either that, or whatever toxic effects they have are not as bad as dehydration. But I think they're probably just not toxic. Not especially recommended for terraria, even desert terraria, as their watering requirements are fairly idiosyncratic and would be difficult to harmonize with other species.
Maranta leuconeura erythroneura (prayer plant) Plants from the Marantaceae are safe under most circumstances and to most species.

Maranta leuconeura kerchoviana.

Maranta leuconeura kerchoviana (prayer plant, rabbit tracks, ten commandments plant) Plants from the Marantaceae are safe under most circumstances and to most species.
Musa spp. (banana) Generally understood to be safe in the amounts swallowable by most pets or children.
Nematanthus spp. (guppy plant) Gesneriads are safe under most circumstances and to most species.
Neoregelia 'Fireball' (by association) Bromeliads are safe under most circumstances and to most species. 'Fireball' is an exception to the general warning about Neoregelia spp. (see yesterday's post) because it does not have spines.

A very small Nephrolepis exaltata.

Nephrolepis exaltata (Boston fern) Generally understood to be safe. Toxicity reports that skin irritation has occurred in nursery workers who handled the wet plants without gloves for long periods. I've experienced itching from wet fronds myself, but nothing horrible. Otherwise there doesn't appear to be a problem. Not especially suitable for reptile or amphibian enclosures, as they grow incredibly fast.
Oncidium cvv. Orchids are safe under most circumstances and to most species.
Paphiopedilum spp. (lady-slipper orchid) Orchids are safe under most circumstances and to most species.
Pellionia spp. including Pellionia pulchra Safe under most circumstances and to most species: this is one of very few species that the ASPCA website actually approves of.
Peperomia argyreia (watermelon plant) All Peperomia spp. are understood by almost everybody to be safe under most conditions.
Peperomia caperata / griseoargentea (Emerald Ripple) As for Peperomia argyreia.

Peperomia clusiifolia NOID.

Peperomia clusiifolia As for Peperomia argyreia.
Peperomia obtusifolia (baby rubber plant) As for Peperomia argyreia.
Phalaenopsis spp. (moth orchid) Orchids are safe under most circumstances and to most species.
Pilea cadierei (aluminum plant) Pilea spp. are understood by almost everybody to be safe for most species under most conditions, though they do technically contain a mild toxin.

Pilea depressa.

Pilea depressa (baby toes) Pilea spp. are understood by almost everybody to be safe for most species under most conditions.
Pilea nummulariifolia (creeping Charlie) Pilea spp. are understood by almost everybody to be safe for most species under most conditions.
Plectranthus verticillatus (Swedish ivy) Generally understood to be safe in most circumstances.
Rhapis excelsa (lady palm) As for Chamaedorea elegans.

Assorted Saintpaulia ionantha cvv.

Saintpaulia ionantha cvv. (African violet) Gesneriads are safe under most circumstances and to most species. Plants are, however, fragile and could easily be trampled to death in a terrarium containing large animals.
Saxifraga stolonifera (strawberry begonia) Generally understood to be safe in most circumstances.
Schlumbergera truncata cvv. (Christmas / Easter / Thanksgiving / holiday cactus) Generally understood to be safe in most circumstances. Some lists include Schlumbergera as toxic, especially for dogs and cats, but it's unclear what they're basing this on. So maybe slightly dangerous to pets; danger to children appears pretty minimal.
Sinningia speciosa (gloxinia) Gesneriads are safe under most circumstances and to most species. Plants are, however, fragile and could easily be trampled to death in a terrarium containing large animals.
Soleirolia soleirolii (baby tears) Generally understood to be safe in most circumstances. Often used as a ground cover in tropical or woodland terraria, since it forms a thick mat of easily maintained vegetation.

Streptocarpus 'Tanager.'

Streptocarpus spp. (cape primrose) Gesneriads are safe under most circumstances and to most species. Plants are, however, fragile and could easily be trampled to death in a terrarium containing large animals.

Stromanthe sanguinea 'Magicstar' (L) and 'Triostar' (R)

Stromanthe spp. Plants from the Marantaceae are safe under most circumstances and to most species.
Tillandsia cyanea (pink quill) Bromeliads are safe under most circumstances and to most species.
Tillandsia spp. (air plants) Bromeliads are safe under most circumstances and to most species.

Tolmiea menziesii.

Tolmeia menziesii (piggyback plant) Generally considered safe, though a few people develop allergies. Allergies are generally restricted to redness and itching and are not really a big deal. This would be suitable for reptiles and amphibians, though the plant does best in a cool, moist environment so that kind of limits its usefulness for tropical terraria.
Tropaeolum majus (nasturtium) Not often kept indoors, partly because it needs a lot of light and partly because it's really susceptible to spider mites, but the leaves and flowers are edible, and reportedly even taste kind of good. Sometimes recommended for tortoise enclosures because they will eat the flowers.
Vriesea spp. including Vriesea splendens (flaming sword bromeliad) Bromeliads are safe under most circumstances and to most species.
Zygocactus spp. (Christmas / Easter / Thanksgiving / holiday cactus) As for Schlumbergera spp., q.v. (Plants called Zygocactus are in fact actually Schlumbergera, and Zygocactus doesn't refer to any actual plants anymore, if it ever did.)

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Photo credits: This set was all mine.

1 It could have negative effects on the mental health of the parents or guardians, of course, which might indirectly threaten the health of the child, but it'd be tough to pin that on the plant.
2 Occasional freak accidents involving unchewed leaves obstructing windpipes or bowels have been reported, but if the universe wants to take you out badly enough that it does it with a bay leaf, then your number is probably just up, you know? Chew your food, or maybe take out the leaf when you're finished cooking the food.


7 comments:

our friend Ben said...

Great post, Mr. S.! It's all too easy to focus on the "bad guys" and leave out the good, so thanks! Thanks too for making special mention of terrarium-safe plants. Herp lovers everywhere will thank you! We've observed that our cats simply can't resist knocking off jade plant leaves, which they view as excellent toys, but they've never attempted to eat one. As for bay leaves, yes, please God remove before serving or the FSM will get you!!!

Kenneth Moore said...

You can dance if you want to you can leave your friends behind...!!!

Oh Biodome. That would have been a utopia for me as a child. I hate you, Pauly Shore.

Anonymous said...

Rieger Begonia: check out Otto Reiger, Germany, sometime in the '70s I believe.

Fragments of Bay leaves can (have) caused laceration of the throat.

Thanks for the great listings. Is it my imagination, or do hairy plants like Tolmeia cause more skin irritations?

Ivynettle said...

Okay, so my complicated/worried customers will now all be given Pilea, Peperomia, Cissus, Saxifraga (strawberry begonia?! Some names are just so wrong!) or Crassula, if there are any.

Also, in regards to Cissus rhombifolia: I'd guess skin irritations are caused by the hairs rather than sap. Much as I like the plant, they're a bitch to propagate, because the hairs get into your clothes, mouth, nose... itchy as hell, coughing, sneezing... not fun.

Zeï said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Zeï said...

What a great series (I know there are some posts left)! I really enjoyed reading, and even my totally-uninterested-in-plants boyfriend did; he was reading behind my shoulder and kept wanting me to scroll down to know what would follow. Thank you very much for making mentions regarding herps, by doing this you definetely expanded the available and trusthworthy information needed by many herp keepers who are also plant lovers.
I also wanted to mention an experience regarding nephrolepis; when out of her terrarium, my Chinese water dragon used to hide behind my boston fern in the corner of my room and try and eat it secretly. She made so much crunching noise that I noticed and at first was worried it might be dangerous, but indeed, it seems it is safe since she didn't get sick at all. (They usually eat some greens in nature, but mine always refused it, so I didn't expect her to chew at my plant all of a sudden) I didn't allow her to continue however.

And finally, I'm glad you wanted to put a Fittonia for Nina, I really love both my nana and my large one. But since the sap strongly smells cucumber when cut, I always wondered if it was safe. It seems so, so I too won't restrain from using them with my small lizards anymore!
Again, amazing posts, thank you for taking the time to write them with such devotion.

Anonymous said...

I want to share my experience with Crassula Ovata and a dog.
The plant got knocked over and while I dragged the plant to the kitchen, a leaf must have fallen in the bag with kibble.
A few days later the dog vomited, kibble but also a leaf from the Crassula Ovata. Her intestins got really inflamed, something that needed help from a vet to treat. Heavily vomitting and bloody stools could be the result of ingesting this leaf. Of coarse I can't proof it, but this dog could eat "anything" without getting an upset stomach. I don't think her getting that ill was a coincidence.

Her condition was easy to treat but it took several days before she was ok.