Dangerous House Plants

Mar 23, 2000

When preparing for a new baby to enter our home, most parents immediately look to the obvious dangers, such as household cleaners and pet supplies. Taking the appropriate measures to keep these items out of the reach of their children is a must. We also take precautions to prevent injuries associated with the basic make up our homes; such as purchasing child gates for stairs, covers for the outlets, and cutting or bundling up window cords. I know many of us have actually gotten down on the floor to view the home from a child’s level, wanting to be fully aware of any hidden dangers that may be lurking below our eye level. This is often a necessity in assuring ourselves that we have “covered all the bases” when childproofing our home, thereby ensuring the well-being and continued health of our children. This is truly a wonderful technique, and usually it will lessen the possibility of our child’s endangerment through common household emergencies. However, there is another aspect to childproofing the home when looking at all it’s potential hazards - house plants.

Admittedly, even I did not think to research the toxic components of my many beloved house plants as a potential a health risk to my firstborn. That is, until I learned to just what extent a child will explore their surroundings when becoming mobile within the first year. They want to explore everything, and will do so at every opportunity. I knew of the danger of some plants exclusively, through my gardening experience, and that related fertilizers and such were a known hazard to my child and my pets. But on one occasion, I watched as our cat (otherwise known as “the flower eater”) nibbled on a couple of my larger leafed plants. I then turned to see my young daughter’s eyes transfixed on his activity as well. Her eyes suddenly brightened, and off she went, struggling across the room at a jaunty crawl to join our furry feline.

Not only did I recognize this as a potential danger, but knew that I would also need to find out as much as possible about the lesser known types of plants I presently had in my home. True, I was able to stop this one explorative venture from becoming a possible emergency situation by removing the plant from my daughter's reach. But that was only a temporary fix. And the simple fact that children mimic and learn by example meant that the probable occurrence of this danger presenting itself again was extremely likely. My daughter adored the cat, watching him with increasing fascination, and my furry feline loved nibbling on the plants in our home. Although, said feline, prefers wild flowers and roses to the majority of my indoor plants, he is never adverse to gnawing on whatever is available when his preferred choice is absent.

Assuredly, it was time for me to take another look at the potential hazards within the home from yet another angle, poisoning from even the most common of my house plants. It may be surprising to some, but a number of accidental poisonings by children are from ingesting pieces of common house plants. The culprits, common species that a majority of homes have decorating an entry way, sitting on a end table, or hanging from a hook in front of a sunny window. Regardless of whether you have removed the offending plant to higher levels within the home, fallen and dried leaves still pose a potential health risk when eaten or sucked on by a child.

* Some dangerous plants contain poisons found only in certain parts of a particular species, while others are poisonous in their entirety.

A Few Common House Plants


Very popular plant which varies in color from dark oblong green leaves with darker green spots, or paler green with white spots or blotches. Bitten leaves can cause lips, mouth, and throat to swell and burn, rendering a person speechless. This plant has been referred to as “dumb cane” due to these effects. Severe cases can result in death.


Extremely common decorative indoor plant. The plant has thick, pointed, heart-shaped or oval-shaped leaves ranging in colors of light to dark green. Mature plants may produce flowers that can be white, green, or red in color. Highly poisonous, symptoms include burning and swelling of the lips, mouth, and tongue. Weakness, kidney failure and even death may occur.


There are more than a dozen types of caladium. These plants have large arrow-shaped leaves which are thin, almost transparent, and leaves vary dramatically in color and variegation. Common both as a house plant and a summer bedding plant outdoors. The Caladium can produce small white flowers and berry fruit. Eating or nibbling any part of this plant can cause severe stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhea, as well as burning and swelling in the mouth and throat. In rare cases, death may occur.

English Ivy

This is an evergreen vine, used widely inside and outside homes as decoration. This plant has dark green leaves, occasionally variegated with yellow or white, and produces pea-sized black berries. Leaves may even cause irritation by mere contact in some individuals. All parts of this plant are poisonous, causing stomach pains, diarrhea, difficulty of breath, and eventually coma when eaten in larger quantities.

Jerusalum Cherry

This plant has shiny oblong green leaves and small white clustered blossoms. The plant also produces red or orange berries, these resemble small tomatoes which are even more poisonous than the main plant leaves and flowers. All parts are poisonous, and just a few of it’s berries can kill a child.

This does not cover the extensive list of all dangerous house plants, however, it does cover some of the more common plants found in numerous homes. The listed plants above are also some of the most toxic to children.


- View any ornamental plant as a potential hazard, and teach your child that these types of plants are not intended for human consumption. Children need to be taught not to eat any part of a plant unless they have permission from a knowledgeable adult.

- Do not induce vomiting with syrup of Ipecac, unless directed to do so by medical and/or poison control personnel.

- Decorating your home with plants that are not poisonous is always encouraged.

- All dried and fallen leaves should be disposed of just as soon as they are noticed.

- Retain plant label found in the home, and in case of poisoning, take this and a sample of the eaten plant with you to the hospital.

- If you are uncertain of a plant's identity, take it to a nursery or florist for identification.

- Discourage playing in plant soil, cover the top of soil with a nylon screen. Plants can still be watered through the screens, but keep little hands out of the soil. Works well for cats too.

- Place plants in a basket, ceramic pot, or other decorative container with edges higher than the plant pot; this will also help to hide the nylon covering placed to prevent children playing in the soil.

- Keep children, and yourself, clear of burning plant fires. Inhaling plant smoke could be harmful.

If there is a suspected plant poisoning, immediately contact a physician or the Poison Control Center. Take a plant sample to the hospital with you, it may aid in speedier diagnosis and treatment.

Annually, Poison Prevention Week is featured within the month of March, generally about the third week.

2000 - March 19-25
2001 - March 18-24

Your local pharmacist or pediatrician should have information pamphlets offering helpful tips and checklists for making your home more child friendly. Of course, year-round this information should be available upon request, and can be obtained by calling your local Poison Control Center. There is no substitute for adult supervision in keeping children safe, but supervision is easier when there are fewer hazards in your home.

Links To Help Find Information And Poison Centers In Your Area:

American Association Of Poison Control Centers

CNN Health Safety

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