Poisonous Plants To Be Careful Of In The Home

Many attractive plants defend their beauty by poisonous means. Here are some that may be found growing in the home or on the patio. Treat them with special caution.

A surprising number of plants in the home or on the patio are equipped to inflict an unpleasant—even lethal — punishment on unwary handlers.

Of course, no sensible adult would nibble the leaves or eat the fruit of any of their house plant collection. But children and pets are natural experimenters. Take the misleadingly named Winter Cherry (Solanum capsicastrum) as an obvious example: to a toddler, those bright fruits are dangerously inviting.Poisonous Plants To Be Careful Of In The Home

Few plants in or around the home are technically ‘deadly’. It’s simply a question of respecting these natural defences of the plant world just as you respect your pet cat’s claws and teeth. But it is certainly worth knowing the truly perilous plants: oleanders (Nerium oleander) are poisonous in every part (a picnic party that used oleander twigs as barbecue skewers ended fatally).

Plants can carry poison in their sap, roots, leaves or seeds. It is the sap that is most likely to affect the house plant handler, especially during propagation. The sticky white sap of the popular Dieffenbachia — an easy plant to propagate by taking cuttings— contains the poison strychnine. The common name for the plant, Dumb Cane, refers to the results of getting this sap in your mouth. The tongue swells for up to two days!

Other plants have special effects on specially sensitive people. A popular primula (Primula obconica) carries the name Poison Primrose because small hairs on its leaves excrete the poison promin, causing a rash on certain skins.

It’s sensible, when handling plants known to be toxic, to avoid careless contact. Avoid getting sap into cuts. Wash hands after handling plants such as Euphorbias (which includes the popular red-leafed Poinsettia, whose milky sap can raise blisters). It’s sensible, too, to ban plants from the home or patio that can be really dangerous to children — the seeds of the Golden Rain (Labumam anagyroides) are specially perilous.

Plants to watch on the patio

Outdoors, children are more at risk of escaping your vigilant eye and experimenting dangerously.

  • Christmas Rose (Helleborus niger) is poisonous in all its parts.
  • Daphne (Daphne mezereum) has poisonous bark and berries — but so foul-tasting that few would eat them.
  • Foxgloves (Digitalis purpurea) contains the powerful source of the drug still used in cardiac cases.
  • Hydrangea The buds can cause nausea if consumed.
  • Ivy The berries are most poisonous and the leaves have a strong purgative effect.
  • Labumum (Laburnum anagyroides) has black seeds that contain a powerful alkaline poison called cystin. Just a few seeds could kill a child. The flowers, bark and roots of the tree are poisonous too.
  • Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis) is poisonous in both its wild and cultivated forms.
  • Lupins The furry pods and the seeds they contain are especially appealing to children, but contain poisonous alkaloids.
  • Rhododendrons and azaleas have poisonous leaves and flowers.

Getting Medical Help

In a case of suspected poisoning, act fast to get the patient to hospital. Take a sample of the plant in question with you.

Plants to watch in the home

Here are some of the more common poisonous house plants. But watch out, too, for occasional visitors like mistletoe: the poisonous berries may fall into some some infant’s hand.

  • Cactus Several cacti, especially those in the Thricocereus and Lophophora families, contain rather large amounts of hallucinogens such as mescalin or lophophorin, a source of LSD.
  • Castor Oil Plant (Ricinus communis) is misleadingly named. Just two seeds can kill. Its poison is ricin, one of the deadliest in the world.
  • Dieffenbachia Staunch the sap flow of this poisonous plant when propagating. Dip the cutting in water or powdered charcoal.
  • Euphorbias All varieties are poisonous, and the Christmas Poinsettia, Euphorbia pulcherrima, is the most poisonous of all.
  • Oleanders The stunning beauty of Nerium oleander is as dangerously deceptive as its common name, Rose Bay. Some have unwisely used its leaves in mistake for culinary bay tree leaves. One leaf can kill.

Do’s and Don’ts


  • Learn to identify your plants. If necessary, discard all poisonous plants.
  • Be vigilant, especially if you’ve got young children. They are apt to put plants in their mouths.
  • Be particularly careful when you are taking cuttings — sap that gets into a cut may cause poisoning.
  • Get medical attention immediately if you suspect poisoning.


  • Grow dangerous plants if there’s any chance that a child, animal or even an adult will have a nibble.
  • Forget to wash your hands after you handle certain plants like Euphorbias, which are known to be toxic.

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