African violet, Wild Divine Studio
This beginner’s guide to houseplants can help to keep animals safe, as many houseplants are toxic to pets (see below). Environmental engineer Michael Waring says it’s a myth that ‘plants clean the air’ (they remove chemicals so slowly, you would need 5000 in a small flat, to have any effect). The best alternative is to remove clutter, open windows (if safe to do so), eco cleaning products and a good vacuum cleaner.
If you have houseplants, water them regularly (especially in conservatories), use a long-handled watering can to access roots (when soil feels dry, or you see droopy yellow leaves with brown tips) and at dawn and dusk (to reduce evaporation). Signs of over-watering include wilting leaves, fungal growth and black insects. Avoid displaying plants where birds can see them from outside, to help stop birds flying into windows.
Many Houseplants Are Toxic to Pets
Be careful when using houseplants if you have pets (just brushing a tail against a lily or sago palm can harm – even burning internal organs). Cats can also knock plants over. Signs of poisoning include lethargy, sickness, drooling and breathing difficulties. It’s a medical emergency, so remove residual plants, wash with warm water and gentle soap – and take plants and vomit samples to the vet with you.
See make your garden safe for pets for more on plants to avoid near pets. Also avoid cocoa mulch, pine mulch and fresh compost near pets. Find lists of toxic plants to avoid near pets at Blue Cross for dogs & cats (all house plants are potentially toxic to rabbits). Vets can sign up to VPIS, which gives access to a helpline, and the book Leaf Supply includes a list of pet-toxic houseplants including:
- Sago palm
- All lilies (Asian, peace etc)
- All bulbs (daffodils, tulips, begonia, geraniums etc):
- Azaleas (rhododendrons), Poinsettias & Chrysanthemum
- Asparagus fern & Branching ivy
- Caladium (red heart-shaped leaves)
- Aloe vera plants
- Lemon trees
- Begonia (and all bulbs)
- Branching ivy
- Caladium (the big heart-shaped red leaves)
- Money plants (jade)
- All fruit pips & seeds are toxic (mini fruit trees)
- Tomato plants (esp. green tomatoes)
- Potato plants (green, raw & unripe potatoes)
- (too much) catnip gives upset tummies
- Lavender (esp. toxic to cats, birds, reptiles and ferrets: they can’t absorb essential oils in plants, oils, perfumes or scented candles: avoid use around them, and air rooms after use).
- If you (illegally) grow cannabis, this plant is also toxic
- Cacti are obviously spiky
Safer herbs in mild versions (they should still be avoided near pets, as ‘safe’ ones could still cause tummy upsets) are basil, rosemary, thyme and coriander. Avoid oregano, lemongrass, pennyroyal mint, tarragon, chives (or plants in the onion family: chives, leeks, onions, shallots), parsley and bay laurel. See how to grow your own herbs.
Safer Plants Near Pets
If you have pets and still want houseplants, here is a list of safer plants. All plants could be a risk for certain animals, so keep them away and ask your vet if in doubt – these are just less lethal if they were ingested, in most circumstances. Don’t use pesticides, as these make all plants toxic. It’s confusing as different sites list plants as unsafe and safe. This edited list is collated from animal poison control experts. At time of writing (check for updates), safer plants listed are:
- African violets
- Boston fern (be careful as pets are tempted to chew them)
- Air plants (potential choking risk)
- Orchids (slipper orchid is toxic to dogs)
- Bamboo plants
- Spider plants (cats could get upset tums, if playing with them)