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Be Careful With That Green Thumb

2009 November 3

While it may not be the time where you think about gardening, it is getting to the point where many outdoor plants will finally make the move inside until spring and warm weather returns again. In my office area I am surrounded by all sorts of house plants and it makes me miss my jungle of a basement back home. There is one room in our basement that is filled with all sorts of house plants. However, upon closer look, if you were visiting my house you could see that 75% of the greenery in abundance is just from one single plant: the aloe plant. My mom has created quite a little forest of aloe. That plant, I’m almost positive, will live forever. We can be gone for weeks on vacation without watering and it will look the same as when we left it. And it grows at an exponential rate. My mom does more repotting of that plant than she does of watering it. But it seems to work. We’re stocked in case of a sunburn outbreak. Luckily, the aloe plant does much more good than harm (other than its hasty growth rate). As the weather finally starts to get cooler and you put your plants back inside, you will probably start looking at your house plants a lot closer. Some plants can be harmful. So, I thought it might be beneficial to provide some helpful tips about what to do with house plants that can be dangerous, and how to keep children safe around them.

  • Know that the leaves or sap from some plants can be poisonous to animals and humans
  • Poisonous plants have the potential to cause illness or a severe reaction
  • Know the names of your poisonous plants around the house
  • When there are babysitters or visitors in your house, make sure they are aware of where the poisonous plants are as well
  • Keep these plants out of reach, perhaps on a tall bookshelf, from children and pets as well
  • Some examples of poisonous plants are:
    – Mums: leaves and stalks are poisonous.
    – Common English Ivy: leaves are poisonous.
    – Dumbcane, Giant Dumbcane, Spotted Dumbcane: all parts
    are poisonous.
  • As we approach the upcoming holiday season remember that, although they are wonderful decorations, berries from mistletoe and all parts of poinsettias* are poisonous and should be placed out of reach as well.

This list is just a small sample of dangerous plants but a more comprehensive list can be found here. Plants can create a little paradise inside while the weather outside is everything but utopia. Just make sure that your greenhouse of house plants can be safely enjoyed and admired.

*NOTE: Please read comments below regarding poinsettias, as it has been brought to our attention that there are many misconceptions about poinsettia toxicity.

About the author: Emily Bruckmann is an intern at the Office of Children’s Health Protection. She is a senior attending Indiana University who will graduate with a degree in public health this spring.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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9 Responses leave one →
  1. Dave Manzer permalink
    November 3, 2009

    Good blog posting! Oleander is poisonous as well. We just bought a puppy and had to trim back our oleanders and put a small fence around them to keep the puppy away from the leaves and pods. We also moved one of our ivy plants above a kitchen cabinet from its previous spot. We’re having to puppy proof the house just like we did when we had our kids.

  2. Steven E Newman permalink
    November 3, 2009

    Poinsettias are not poisonous. Please check your facts before publishing such a post. This sort of misinformation about poinsettias continues today in spite of many references to the contrary.

    See the link below:

    In a 1995 poll funded by the Society of American Florists, 66 percent of the respondents held the false impression that poinsettia plants are toxic if eaten. Research at Ohio State University in 1971 showed that rats fed unusually high doses of poinsettia plant parts were not adversely affected. The POISINDEX® Information Service, the primary resource used by most poison control centers, states that a 50-pound child would have to eat more than 500 poinsettia bracts to surpass experimental doses. Based on the rodent tests, accepted by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, the commission denied a 1975 petition filed by a New York citizen demanding that poinsettia plants carry caution labels that indicate they are poisonous.

    Like other non-food items, poinsettia plants are not edible and are not intended to be eaten. Poinsettias are a member of the Euphorbiaceae family of plants. Other economically important species in this family include: The cultivated rubber tree Hevea brasiliensis, Manioc or cassava (Manihot), and Castor bean (Ricinus). With its close genetic ties to the rubber tree, which is where natural latex is derived, those who are sensitive may also be sensitive to the latex from poinsettias. If eaten, parts of all plants may cause varying degrees of discomfort, but not death. Keep plants out of reach of small children.

    Steven E. Newman, Ph.D., A.A.F
    Greenhouse Crops Extension Specialist and
    Professor of Floriculture
    Colorado State University

  3. Brenda-EPA permalink
    November 3, 2009

    Emily: this is a great blog. My deceased cat brought indoors once some poisonous plant in her fur and I had to be treated for a severe allergic reaction I had upon touching her. Ever since I am very careful with the pets and the kids when playing in the yard or the park.

  4. Kirsten@Nexyoo permalink
    November 3, 2009

    Thanks for these tips. I think it’s something that people often don’t consider, even though the wrong plants can have serious consequences for pets or children.

  5. Jackenson Durand permalink
    November 3, 2009

    Children enjoying put their hands into mouth, after touching any kind of nature’s objects.
    If we would not able to use our vigilance to protect our children once more, we would get consequences. Even, adults are vulnerable as well in that green thumb. The nature needs to be protecting by humans. Humans are protecting by nature, In case of a green conservancy only. Glance at below example:

    Common names: Elephant’s Ear, Cabeza de Burro,
    Malanga de Jardin, Malanga Cara de
    Chivo, Chine Ape, Papao-Apaka,
    Papao-Atolong, Taro

    Description: Erect perennial with long stemmed,
    spearhead-shaped leaves. Flowers
    Appear on a greenish stem.

    Toxic Part: The leaves and stems are injurious.

    Symptoms: Chewing of plant part causes a
    painful burning sensation of the
    lips, mouth, tongue, and throat
    Dinoflagellates are dangerous.

  6. Michael E. Bailey permalink
    November 4, 2009

    This is important information especially for parents with small children or people with animals who are prone to put things in their mouths. Small children need to be closely supervised. Another idea if you have enough space is to get a easy to assemble greenhouse from one of the mail order gardening catalogs and set it up to keep plants healthy and them and small children safer. Best wishes, Michael E. Bailey.

  7. Jennifer Sparks permalink
    November 5, 2009

    Unfortunately, poinsettia toxicity has been a longstanding myth about this popular holiday plant. In fact, the poinsettia is the most widely tested consumer plant on the market today, proving the myth to be false:

    — Scientific research from The Ohio State University has proved the poinsettia to be non-toxic to both humans and pets. All parts of the plant were tested, including the leaves and sap.

    — According to POISINDEX, the national information center for poison control centers, a child would have to ingest 500-600 leaves in order to exceed the experimental doses that found no toxicity.

    — A past study by Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University, using national data collected by the American Association of Poison Control Centers, found that out of 22,793 reported poinsettia exposures there was essentially no toxicity significance of any kind.

    — The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals reports that keeping this plant out of the reach of pets to avoid stomach upset is a good idea, however pet owners need not fear the poinsettia and banish it from their homes for fear of a fatal exposure.

    For more information and relevant links:

    We would really appreciate a correction to the misinformation if at all possible and that this information be kept in your files for future reference.

    Many thanks,
    Jennifer Sparks
    Society of American Florists

  8. Rick Brown permalink
    December 12, 2009

    Emily, It would be better that you edit your post rather than footnote your error on poinsettia toxicity for those who half read and publish. Seems that is how you came about this information in the first place. Easy enough to do. In fact you should write another post promoting poinsettia as a safe product and we would all be served better. I should also point out that here in Florida winter is the best time to garden and I sure it is lovely in California, South Texas and Hawaii as well.
    Thank you.

  9. Ahmad Zaki Aldy (The Owner Of House Plants Decor) permalink
    November 29, 2012

    Like all living creature, house plants can also succumb to various diseases and ailments. They then present a truly sorry sight: leaves wilt and fall off, flower buds shrivel and cease to grow. House plants can become the victims of disease or damage caused by infestation of insects, parasites, bacteria, air pollution and poor treatment. The latter in particular is often the reason for many such diseases and ailments.

    A vigorous, well-tended house plants is much more able to withstands a knock or two than one which has become weak as a result of wrong treatment. However, the following information will, we hope, enable you to identify and treat a number of the commonly occurring house plants troubles.

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