March 19, 2020
At home

In the garden: Harmful houseplants

Indoor plants make us feel good and they help to keep the air in our homes healthy, however there is a warning for parents of young children.

Pothos or devil’s ivy can be harmful if ingested

Whether you are following trends and turning your home into a jungle, or recycling a few of your nanna’s macrame hangers and plant treasures, it pays to be sure that any children in the home are also getting the best from your indoor greenery. 

As with most things when raising kids, it’s important to teach your little ones that the only greens they should be eating are those on their plate or the things they pick with you from the veggie patch. 

Plants making children sick is rare, as toxic plants will usually taste unpleasant, which means children will spit them out straight away. However, as a mum myself, I know that you can’t always be watching your children, so if you have toddlers or pre-school age kids who might chomp on plants, or who are tactile and like to play with leaves, then there are a few plants you should keep out of their reach, or select alternatives for use in easily accessed places. 

The common household plant, caladium (angel wings), which is toxic if chewed or swallowed and the sap may cause dermatitis, itching and burning. 

Spathiphyllum (peace lily) is such a popular house plant. Ingesting spathiphyllum may cause a tingling and burning sensation, followed by swelling of the lips, mouth and tongue. Contact dermatitis may also occur in sensitive individuals. 

All parts of the dieffenbachia (dumb cane) plant are toxic. Dieffenbachia causes burning and irritation of the mouth and tongue, along with swelling and accumulation of fluid which can cause difficulty swallowing. 


Popular house plant philodendron should be kept away from toddlers. The leaves, if chewed, can cause pain or a burning sensation and swelling to the lips, mouth, tongue and throat, along with difficulty in breathing, swallowing or speaking. The sap may cause contact dermatitis or eye irritation. 

On-trend house plant, pothos or devil’s ivy (epipremnum) is on the list as it may cause pain, swelling of the lips, mouth, tongue and throat if eaten, and the sap may cause contact dermatitis and eye irritation. 

At Christmas time watch out for potted poinsettia. The sap, leaves, seeds and stalk are all toxic, causing nausea, with the sap causing irritation to the skin and eyes. 

All parts of syngonium (arrowhead plant) are not good if eaten. Chewing syngonium can cause gastric irritation, burning and swelling of the throat. 

Zanzibar gem

Zanzibar gem (Zamioculcas zamiifolia) can also cause health problems. If chewed or swallowed symptoms can cause immediate pain or a burning sensation and swelling of the lips, mouth, tongue and throat. Contact dermatitis may also occur.

Of course, indoor plants offer valuable sensory experiences for children and provide many benefits, so don’t be put off by this list! Bring plants inside, enjoy the benefits they have to offer to the wellbeing of your home and your family.

There are also many plants you can grow inside that are considered safe for young children. 

These plants include:
Aluminium plant
African violets
Boston ferns
Jade plant
Parlour palm
Spider plant / ribbon plant


While every care has been taken to produce these lists, they are by no means exhaustive. If you are unsure, have a chat with the staff at your local garden centre. Parents and caregivers may find the following websites helpful:  

If you think your child has eaten part of a plant and has had a severe reaction, be sure to contact the Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26. If you need to take your child to hospital, take a piece of the plant with you. 


This story first appeared in the Winter 2018 issue of SALIFE Gardens & Outdoor Living magazine.


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