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.
What is plant toxicity?
It’s a naturally occuring, 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 of course, 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. 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. Limonene is the compound that gives lemons their citrus scent. While fatally repellent to moths, it is pleasing to humans.
A plant’s toxicity can make us sick or worse, but only if consumed.
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 should be fine. We do encourage talking to, petting and even dancing with your houseplants any chance you get (although, maybe not your cactus).
Before purchasing your next plant, inquire about the toxicity. You can also check out ASPCA’s list of toxic and non-toxic plants. If you have curious pets who like to nibble on your plants, you’ll want to make sure your plant is non-toxic. Completely non-toxic plants include beautiful orchids, lovely air plants, ferns, peperomias, calatheas and adorable marimo balls. Shop pet-friendly plants here.
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 sway their attention. Some pets will not be interested in your plants at all.