Toni Reale | File Photo

Pet-loving customers at Roadside Blooms are conscious consumers when purchasing plants that could be poisonous to their furry friends. In general, plant toxicity has the potential for a wide spectrum of adverse effects to animals from tingling in the mouth to upset stomach to kidney failure. The most dangerous indoor plants to animals have not been widely cultivated for commercialization so pet deaths linked to houseplants are extremely rare. 

Why are some plants toxic?

In nature, plants have very little opportunity for defense because they are rooted in place. Evolutionary plant biologists have determined that plant toxicity likely co-evolved with herbivorous insects and animals to protect themselves. Interestingly, studies have shown that most plants have evolved to produce toxins that specifically target their main herbivore and to deter them from being eaten. While one species may be deterred from munching on a specific type of plant, other herbivores evolved to withstand their toxins. As ecosystems became more diverse, some plants have even evolved to produce multiple toxins to repel a wider variety of threats. 

“Toxic” or “poisonous” does not necessarily mean “deadly”

There are many lists out there that attempt to define what are widely considered as non-toxic or non-poisonous houseplants. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) is our go-to list to determine what is generally considered a “safe” plant for pets. The ASPCA notes that any plant material ingested by your pet may cause gastrointestinal issues. If you have a dog, it’s pretty likely that you’ve caught them eating grass outside, dramatically vomiting and then behaving normally a little while later. Any plant listed as non-toxic or mildly toxic is very unlikely to cause death, but still may cause slight issues, according to the group.

Other factors that determine how harmful that plant ingestion will be to your pet is how much and what part that has been eaten. Roots of some plants may be more toxic than its leaves, and a lot of plant material would of course be more toxic than a little. At the shop, we refer each customer who asks us if a particular plant is toxic to pets directly to the ASPCA list. For liability reasons we, and most plant shops, can’t tell you for sure whether a plant is toxic to your individual pet because of the wide variety of factors that would play into whether or not your pet would have a reaction.

Determine your pets’ affinity towards plants

In our collective shop experience, most animals stay out of houseplants, but you know your pets’ behaviors best. The best thing to do if you are unsure whether your pets will get into your houseplants is to start with a few plants on the ASPCA list that are considered non-toxic. See how your pets react to new plants and build your collection from there. Knowing that any plant material can cause some degree of toxicity suggests that you should keep all plants out of pets’ reach if they like to nibble on your leafy friends. 

Plants deserve to be protected from your pets, too

From our perspective, it is also important to keep your plants safe from your pets. Even if your pets don’t see your plants as an open buffet, they still might dig in the soil or find joy in knocking your pots over. If your pets continue to pester your plants, it can lead to unhealthy plants. Instead of ditching your plants all together if your pets just can’t help themselves, style your plants or ones that are listed as toxic on shelves or bookcases. 

Our 3 favorite pet-friendly plants:

  • Rattlesnake Plant
  • Watermelon Peperomia
  • Bird’s Nest Fern

Stay cool. Support City Paper.

City Paper has been bringing the best news, food, arts, music and event coverage to the Holy City since 1997. Support our continued efforts to highlight the best of Charleston with a one-time donation or become a member of the City Paper Club.