Like many people seeking enrichment during the COVID-19 pandemic, I sought discovery of new hobbies including indoor plant cultivation. I started with a few houseplants. Their growth and beauty would be a physical reflection of hard work and some much needed signs of positivity. I attempted brief research on these starter plants, focusing on water and sunlight needs. However, I skipped over a glaringly important detail in their care instructions: to beware of toxicity. With no pets or children around to mischievously eat my toxic houseplants, I dismissed any concerns.
Skip to three years later, I have learned to grow and even propagate some plants. I have repotted some, accumulated more, and pruned when necessary. Though, you can’t win them all; mistakes are abound. One day, I go to prune a plant I have had from the beginning, my silver squill (Ledebouria socialis). I pull off a dying stem before it was truly ready—mistake number one. Sap oozes out onto my bare hands—mistake number two. I remember that I once read this plant was toxic, but I still ignore the thought—mistake number three. Strike I’m out! My hand begins tingling in a way I haven’t experienced before. I relent and finally make an internet search for toxicity, and sure enough, this houseplant has toxic sap, known to cause irritation on the skin. If only I had done proper research and wore gloves!
Thankfully, I had a mild “touch” of toxicity poisoning. Toxic houseplants can cause a range of unpleasant symptoms by touch or ingestion. A person could experience swelling, excessive salivation, irritation, and burning of the mouth, throat, or lips, as well as nausea, vomiting, digestive problems, organ disfunction, skin burning, or eye damage. Many toxic plants, if consumed, may also affect our beloved pets; a heartleaf philodendron, for example, can be lethal in cats.
EDIS publication #ENH1375, “Common Poisonous Houseplant Species in Florida,” discusses many of these symptoms in relation to plants commonly kept in households or offices. English ivy is listed as one such plant that, similar to the silver squill, causes skin irritation if in contact with the plant’s sap. However, its sap could do much worse by potentially inducing hallucinations!
Don’t be like me!
- Wear gloves to prune your plants, indoors and otherwise.
- If you have pets or small children, ensure their safety. Decide whether it is necessary to relocate or remove certain plants around your home.
- Do your research. Check out #ENH1375 and see if your plants are on the list. The publication provides pictures, common variant descriptions, possible symptoms, and what makes these plants harmful. Check out these two recent blogs about poisonous weeds or invasive plants of Florida and poisonous plants common to Duval County.
- Lastly, there are many publications and blogs about this subject and more, so remember to Ask IFAS!
Source: UF/IFAS Pest Alert
Note: All images and contents are the property of UF/IFAS.