Poisonous Plants in the Home
There are dozens of gorgeous houseplants that you can grow. As a plant parent, it’s important to know as much as you can about each plant so you can care for them in the best way possible. It’s also important to know if the plants are toxic. Just because they are poisonous doesn’t mean you can’t grow them. But if you have inquisitive children and pets who may want to chew or crush plants, you need to take special care to put them in a safe place where they won’t be disturbed.
Some plants are more toxic than others. Poisonous houseplants can cause skin irritations, stomach upsets, and burning of the mouth and throat. The good news is that most must be consumed in large quantities to cause any real damage. Often the bitter taste repels a child or pet and stops them from ingesting much of the plant. If you suspect that a child or pet has been poisoned by eating or touching a houseplant, call your doctor or veterinarian, go to an emergency room, or call the 24-hour National Capital Poison Center at 800-222-1222.
Use care when growing and displaying these common poisonous plants in your home. Native poisonous plants vary by geographic location; contact your local extension service for more specific information.
Image zoom Bob Greenspan
Planning on forcing bulbs indoors? Many spring bulbs, including hyacinths and daffodils forced for indoor blooms, are toxic if eaten by humans or pets. Eating the bulbs (which can be mistaken for shallots or onions) can cause intense stomach problems, high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, and even death. Make sure you keep daffodils up on a counter or shelf where they won’t be disturbed or try growing them in a terrarium.
Image zoom Jacob Fox
Dieffenbachia selections grow in low-light conditions and add a tropical vibe to decor. It’s earned one of its common names, dumb cane, because of the symptoms that occur when it’s eaten. The sap causes the tongue to burn and swell, enough to block off air to the throat. It can be fatal to both humans and pets if ingested in large amounts. There are tons of cool plant stands available in stores that will help you keep this plant off the ground.
This flower’s scent is unmistakable and the pure white blooms are eye-catching. Although they’re beautiful, cats have been known to suffer serious damage after eating Easter lilies. Eating small amounts of any part of the plant can lead to a cat’s death from kidney failure if not treated by a veterinarian within 18 hours. The plant is not poisonous to children, but they can choke on pieces of it.
These plants are the perfect go-to vine to have draping from a bookshelf or indoor container garden. Large quantities of English ivy must be ingested to cause serious problems, but all parts of English ivy can cause symptoms that include skin irritation, burning throat after eating the berries, fever, and rash. Since ivy tends to trail, set it somewhere high off the ground, out of reach of children and pets.
Image zoom Bill Holt
All parts of oleander, a popular indoor flowering shrub, are extremely poisonous. Although they have risks, their delicate blooms and unique foliage make growing them well worth in. Wear gloves and wash your hands when pruning and taking cuttings to be sure you don’t accidentally ingest the sap. It can be fatal if eaten.
Image zoom Blaine Moats
A popular low-light houseplant, the peace lily is toxic only if large quantities of the leaves are eaten. Enjoy the dark green leaves and white flowers from afar, like atop a bookshelf, if you have pets or young children. As it ages, a peace lily’s green foliage deepens in color.
No other group of plants is as widely used indoors as philodendrons, but they are poisonous to humans and pets. Eating them can cause burning and swelling of lips, tongue, and throat; vomiting; and diarrhea. Like ivy, philodendrons have a trailing habit, so keep far from the floor.
Pothos, a close relative of philodendron, pothos is just as easy to grow, but unfortunately causes the same symptoms of philodendron if ingested. Can’t stay away from this heart-leaved beauty? Try the easy-care vining plant in a hanging basket or on a plant pole.
Make your home feel like a tropical oasis with this miniature palm. One of the oldest living plants on earth, sago palm may have survived so long because animals don’t eat it. All parts of the plants, including the seeds and roots, are poisonous. Ingesting sago palm causes vomiting and diarrhea, and may lead to liver failure.
Image zoom Indestructible Houseplant
The drought-tolerant ZZ plant is a wonderful addition to low-light situations in homes and offices, but all parts of this plant are poisonous. Keep it away from children and pets, and wash your hands or wear gloves if you need to handle it. Otherwise, this plant tolerates neglect.
- By Deb Wiley
Muscari – Grape Hyacinth
There about forty species in the genus Muscari produce spikes of blue flowers resembling bunches of grapes – which explains the common name of grape hyacinth. The botanical name is derived either from the Turkish name for the bulb or from the Greek word ‘moschos’ or ‘musk’, referring to the scent of some species. Muscari are native to Eurasia. The two most common species in cultivation are Muscari armeniacum and Muscari botryoides. Muscari have been in cultivation in England since 1576.
These lovely blue or purple bulbs bloom in early to late spring, depending on the species. They are often grown as underplanting for tulips and daffodils. Muscari flower spikes make a good contrast to the rounder shapes of those larger flowers.
Scientific name – Muscari
Common name – Grape Hyacinth
Bloom time – Spring, late winter
Uses – Rock gardens, borders, naturalized
Kingdom – Plantae
Division – Magnoliophyta
Class – Liliopsida
Family – Hyacinthaceae
Genus – Muscari
Height – 2 to 12 inches depending on variety
Leaf – Dies back in summer
Flower – Blue shades, purple, white
Bloom Time – Late winter to spring
Light – Full to half-day sun
Soil – Adaptable; neutral to mildly acid; good drainage
Water – Even moisture during growth period
Hardiness – Zones 2 to 8; variable by species
Muscari are easy bulbs to grow. They prefer full sun during their growing period, but will tolerate light shade or half-day sun. They flower early, and often have most of their growth finished before many trees are completely leafed out, which makes them suitable for a variety of sites.
These bulbs prefer even moisture while they are growing, but can tolerate dry conditions when they are dormant in midsummer. They are adaptable to a wide variety of soils as long as drainage is good. Bulbs may rot in very wet soil.
Grape Hyacinth are planted in early fall. The small bulbs should be spaced about three inches apart and planted about three inches deep. These bulbs require a cold period to bloom.
When muscari have finished blooming, cut back the flower spikes for a tidier look. The foliage has to be left in place until it has withered so that the bulb can store nutrition for the following year’s bloom. In many species, the foliage reappears in the fall and remains evergreen all winter.
Muscari are seldom bothered by any pests or problems, including visiting animals. All parts of the plant are mildly poisonous.
Muscari naturalize readily, reproducing from offsets (small new bulbs that form from the older parent bulb) or from seeds. Self-sown seed may mature with a different color flower.
Muscari are beautiful in rock gardens and are often grown as underplanting for tulips and daffodils. They naturalize readily and are very pretty in a meadow or lawn. Bulbs can be forced into bloom indoors, but an artificial cold period is required.
Muscari Varieties to Grow
Muscari armeniacum ‘Blue Spike’
Muscari armeniacum ‘Early Giant’ – blue
Muscari armeniacum ‘Superstar’ – periwinkle blue
Muscari paradoxum – deep blue; heirloom
Muscari armeniacum ‘Mt. Hood’ – blue and white bicolor
Muscari armeniacum ‘Valerie Finnis’ – powder blue
It seems obligatory to complain about grape hyacinth leaves. They are too many, apparently, and they persist for too long. This is certainly true of some species of muscari. The leaves can become a great tangle of green – luxuriant, but messy, swamping things around them.
Still, this is an issue only if you plant in the wrong place. Too much rich garden soil and you’ll get more leaf and less flower; assign them to short grass below trees and shrubs, or in thin, stony ground, and you’ll get a pool of blue as deep as the ocean. The trick is being a little mean with fertility and offering some shade come summer. Plant them now, scattering the bulbs in large, informal groups, and get them down deep – 10cm or so, 5cm apart.
I naturalised a swath of the Armenian grape hyacinth (Muscari armeniacum) in the grass around my beehive. It’s my spring-welcoming gift to the bees. You don’t notice the leaves hidden in grass, and as long as the short grass is not mowed too frequently, they will survive. They also work well as ground cover under deciduous trees, making an impenetrable mat that keeps weeds at bay. Another one for short grass is the common grape hyacinth, M. neglectum; a darker purple, almost black, and it will self-seed even in grass (don’t put it in a bed in a small garden, as it will take over).
There are some rarer muscari worth looking out for. M. azureum has pale blue flowers with dark strips running down the centre of each petal. It hates being hot in summer and looks terrible if grown on bare soil in spring, when rain will splatter it with soil. M. latifolium is more refined. The flower spike is a dark purple, crowned with a bright blue topknot. It can be given pride of place in the garden as it won’t take over.
However, the muscari I love most is M. comosum, the tassel hyacinth, which grows in woodland scrub in Italy and Greece (it’s recently had a name change to Leopoldia comosa, but I’m in denial). The top flowers look like tassels and the bottom flowers are a muddy purple. The bulbs are edible, known as lampascioni, and are eaten mostly in southern Italy. They are a pain to process, full of bitter mucus, but find someone who knows how to cook them and there’s an unusual Mediterranean treat to be had. They are usually served in oil and vinegar, and taste like a strange, bitter pickled onion. They are addictively good. The only place I’ve found selling bulbs to grow (not to eat, be wary of pesticides) is eBay. You’ll find plenty of M. comosum ‘Plumosum’, but it’s ugly and the flowers are sterile, which is no good for the bees.
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