Don’t Get Burned by These Six Common Houseplants


In 1919, a young child woke up on Christmas morning to sneak downstairs and see what awaited him. So as not to wake his sleeping parents, he crawled quietly across the living room to the tree.1

As he shifted his body with elegant stealth, or so he believed, he found a bright red leaf-like petal on the ground beside him. Although slightly withered, the color reminded him of one of his favorite cherry-flavored candies, so he quickly put it in his mouth and then continued on his way, heading for his presents under the tree.

Several hours later, her parents woke up to find their child dead on the floor.1

This story, long believed to be the source of fears surrounding the deadly nature of the poinsettia plant that commonly decorates homes at Christmas, is not true. However, the unfounded myth of the young child dying from ingesting a poinsettia in 1919 scared parents from keeping these plants within reach of their children for more than a century.1

Upon ingestion, the poinsettia may cause mild discomfort, including an itchy rash; eye irritation; a slight stomach ache, vomiting or a mild case of diarrhoea; or an allergic reaction in people sensitive to latex, which is a compound in the plant.1 But for the general population, the poinsettia is not much of a problem. A 50-pound child would need to consume more than 500 poinsettia bracts, which are the color-changing leaves of the poinsettia, before crossing a toxic threshold.3

Although it has been feared that many plants used to decorate halls around Christmas, such as the poinsettia, are deadly poisonous, these fears have been greatly exaggerated. However, there are several common houseplants found in homes year-round with a much more toxic profile than those seductive leafy holiday villains.

1. Peace lily

With dark green leaves and simple white flowers, the peace lily is one of the most common houseplants due to its durability, watering tolerance and low to medium light requirements. . However, in 2005, more people called poison control centers about possible poisonings from ingesting peace lilies than any other plant.1

Containing calcium oxalates, peace lily, if ingested by adults, can cause skin irritation, burning of the mouth, difficulty in swallowing and nausea. However, in small children, dogs and cats, ingestion of peace lilies can be much more problematic.1

In children, ingesting peace lily leaves can cause diarrhea and vomiting, but the sap can cause symptoms in children such as a swollen mouth, burning sensation in the throat, and loss of blood. appetite, as well as nausea, headache, lethargy, and constant salivation. In case of excessive consumption, respiratory problems and kidney failure may also occur.4

In dogs and cats, symptoms of ingesting peace lilies may include mouth irritation, excessive drooling, vomiting, difficulty swallowing, and severe burning and irritation of the mouth, throat, and throat. tongue and lips. However, the symptoms tend not to be too severe or require a trip to the vet.4

2. English ivy

This vine native to Europe is commonly used as an outdoor ground cover, but is a common indoor potted plant. When grown indoors, the berries of English ivy can pose problems for those less familiar with its poisonous nature; although bitter and not at all tasty, the berries can still arouse the curiosity of children or pets.

If ingested, these berries can lead to serious gastrointestinal issues and potential delirium or respiratory problems. Additionally, the sap from English ivy leaves can cause skin irritation and blisters.5

Although not fatal, ingesting the leaves can cause more severe symptoms in dogs and cats than in humans. Some symptoms that may occur after ingesting the leaves include abdominal pain, diarrhea, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting.6

Additionally, if dogs and cats are repeatedly exposed to the sap of the plant, it can cause temporary allergic dermatitis, with symptoms including blistering, redness, and swelling.6

3. Philodendron

Ivylike in appearance and growth patterns, the philodendron is native to the West Indies. Similar to the peace lily, all parts of the philodendron contain calcium oxalates. Because the leaves often trail to the ground, they can be within reach of small children and pets, for whom this plant is much more toxic than for adults.1

When struck with the urge to investigate, pets and children may only nibble on a philodendron leaf, in which case they will usually only feel a slight burning in the mouth and/or nausea. However, ingestion of any part of the plant may cause severe abdominal pain in young children, dogs, and cats, and repeated skin contact may cause severe allergic reactions.1

In 2006 alone, poison control centers across the United States received more than 1,600 calls about poisonings from ingesting the philodendron plant.1

4. Dumbbell

This herb, unlike others that grace this list, is called the dumbbell due to historical knowledge of the effects of ingesting it. A tropical plant from South America, dumbcane, also known as dieffenbachia, has thick, broad leaves that are usually a combination of green, white, and yellow.1

If consumed, the dumbbell can cause temporary inflammation of the vocal cords, making people who have ingested it unable to speak. Most symptoms of dumbbell poisoning include severe mouth and throat irritation, swelling of the tongue and face, and stomach problems. Additionally, dumbbell sap is irritating to the skin and can cause light sensitivity and pain if it gets into the eyes.1

Although not life threatening to small children, dogs and cats, if they ingest the dumbbell it can lead to mouth irritation, excessive drooling, vomiting, difficulty swallowing, as well as intense burning and irritation of the mouth, tongue and

rubber tree

The rubber tree is a very popular houseplant due to its ease of maintenance. A species in the mulberry family, the rubber tree, or ficus elastica, has thick, waxy leaves that first appear as soft coral, but eventually turn dark green as they age.8

Native to southern China, Southeast Asia and Indonesia, the rubber tree is an evergreen species that was originally used to make rubber from its sap containing latex before the advent of synthetic materials. The latex in the sap is the same compound used to make products such as latex gloves, condoms, and many medical supplies. However, latex is a common irritant for many people and rubber tree sap is no different.9

For people sensitive to latex, side effects can range from mild to severe. In its mild form, the most common symptom of latex sensitivity is skin dermatitis, which may present as a mild rash at the site of contact. In its severe form, the latex can cause reactions ranging from blistering and burning to anaphylactic shock.9

For young children, if they ingest the plant, and especially its sap, they may experience burning, itching and pain in the mouth and throat, with severe cases including gastrointestinal upset, diarrhea and vomiting. .9

For dogs and cats, their fur will probably prevent the most problematic exposure to the sap, but problems can arise if the sap comes into contact with their nose or eyes, with common symptoms including irritation at the site of the contact. If cats or dogs ingest the sap, it can lead to diarrhea or vomiting.9


Ficus benjamina, commonly known as ficus or weeping fig, is a species of fig tree that has glossy green ovoid leaves that taper to a point. This teardrop shape is what lends itself to its soulful namesake, but its stature remains strong and forever tree-like, regardless of its size and age.ten

Due to its affordability and adaptability to soil, light and weather conditions, ficus is a common houseplant that requires little care. However, like the rubber tree, ficus benjamina has a toxic sap that can cause skin dermatitis. Specifically for ficus, however, symptoms resulting from skin exposure to sap may be intensified with immediate exposure to sunlight, resulting in more severe skin irritation at the site of contact.11

For dogs and cats, contact with ficus sap can cause reactions such as decreased appetite, drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, and skin irritation. However, reactions tend to be mild and pass relatively quickly after exposure.11


  1. Stewart A. Wicked Plants. New York, NY: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill; 2009.
  2. Hocker JL. Are poinsettias poisonous? Mayo Clinic. October 8, 2019. Accessed January 21, 2022.
  3. Yang A. The dark myth of the poinsettia. nature education. January 1, 2015. Accessed January 21, 2022.
  4. Are peace lilies poisonous? You will be shocked to know. Gardener. Accessed January 21, 2022.
  5. English ivy poisoning in dogs. Stir! Accessed January 21, 2022.
  6. Boone L. Dogs, cats or children? These are the right plants for you. Los Angeles Times. February 28, 2020. Accessed January 21, 2022.
  7. Sill staff. Rubber tree. The threshold. Accessed January 21, 2022.
  8. Worth D. How poisonous are rubber tree plants? Are they safe for your home? The healthy indoor plant. Accessed January 21, 2022.
  9. Prontes I. Toxicity of Ficus Benjamina. garden guides. September 21, 2017. Accessed January 21, 2022.
  10. Poisonous sap of Ficus Banjamina. Accessed January 21, 2022.
  11. Pet Poison Helpline. Accessed January 21, 2022.

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