Common Care Questions

What is Plant Toxicity?

Is there a creature making a meal out of your plant? Let’s take a look at the fascinating way plants protect themselves from being eaten.

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Plant toxicity is a naturally occurring, chemical process of a plant defending itself against being eaten (herbivory). Some plants create or secrete what are called secondary plant metabolites. The purpose of these is to defend against herbivory. This is a mostly successful process — plants have been doing this for millions of years! For example, poisonous sap from a rubber tree protects it from many herbivores.

Not all secondary plant metabolites repel though, and some may actually attract plant-eating creatures. Some metabolites are irritating, but not fatal. For example, aroids like the Pothos create crystal raphides which are physical irritants, but are by no means fatal. Raw succulent juices are not fatal either, but can induce vomiting. And limonene is the compound that gives lemons their citrus scent, and while fatally repellent to moths, it is pleasing to humans.

Remember, a plants’ toxicity can make us sick or worse, but only if consumed. As long and you are not chewing on your houseplants, you'll be fine. But what about your curious pets?

Cats and dogs are different animals, but tend to chew on plants for similar reasons. Most of the time it is because they are bored or under stimulated. We recommend bringing home a new pet toy when you bring home a new plant to help sway their attention, or placing new plants up high out of their reach. Some pets will not be interested in your plants at all, but others will be.

If you're looking for a new pet-safe plant, you can check out ASPCA’s list, or go with one of our recommendations below.

Parlor Palm
The Parlor Palm’s easy-going nature and tropical feel make it a popular houseplant. In fact, it has been cultivated since the Victorian era for its resilience to indoor conditions and vertical growth habit.

Xerographica Air Plant
If your four legged friend likes to dig in the dirt (or potting mix), skip the mess and try an air plant. This epiphytic plant is like a living sculpture for your space, no planter or potting required.

Calathea Rattlesnake
Also called a prayer plant, the Calathea Rattlesnake raises and lowers its leaves from day to night, a phenomenon called nyctinasty (check out a time lapse here). Despite its name, it won't bite back if munched on.

Calathea Makoyana
Another popular variety of Calathea, the Makoyana is affectionately called the peacock plant because of its long wavy green leaves with deep green brushstroke pattern and deep purple underside.

Discover more pet-safe houseplants here.