Luci Steele was prepping for a garden class for children a few years ago.
Wouldn’t it be fun to give each child a plant to take home?
A succulent in her garden came to mind. Mother of Thousands, as the name suggests, grows tiny new plants along the edge of its leaves.
“It drops these hundreds of little, tiny ready-made plants with little roots on them,” says Steele, who’s a master gardener. “They’re just fascinating.”
She did some research and realized the plants are poisonous when eaten. So the children got a lesson in gardening without a gift of toxic plants.
Some houseplants, like Mother of Thousands, can be toxic to children and pets, especially when eaten.
Our panel of plant experts throughout the Lancaster County region picked the worst houseplants for households with pets or children. Avoid these plants or keep them far from curious hands and mouths.
Sago palms are tropical plants that can thrive indoors and don’t mind cool temperatures.
However, cycas revolute is highly toxic to both people and animals.
“All parts of the plant are toxic, but the bright red seeds are especially dangerous because they contain high concentrations of toxin and can be attractive to children and pets,” says Jody Davey, manager of conservatory habitats at Hershey Gardens.
This plant’s main toxin is cycasin, which can cause liver damage and even liver failure.
Dieffenbachia’s been a popular and easy-to-grow houseplant for decades.
Its common name, dumb cane, is a red flag for the trouble it can cause when eaten. The plant’s sap can cause the mouth to swell, leaving someone unable to speak.
Dieffenbachia “is best out of reach of both pets and children,” says Lois Nolt, owner of Tillandsia& in Leola.
Lilies can be a deadly threat, especially for cats. This includes Easter lilies, calla lilies, daylilies, Asiatic lilies, peace lilies and lily of the valley.
Eating these plants can cause acute kidney damage, says Dr. Alicia Simoneau, chief veterinary officer for Humane Pennsylvania.
Asparagus ferns have feathery foliage that can grow long enough to be used in hanging baskets.
Asparagus densiflorus can cause a skin rash that lasts a few minutes. When eaten, it can cause gastrointestinal problems in people, cats and dogs.
“Definitely a no-no if you have children and pets that want to put leaves in their mouths,” says Jen Hollenbaugh, greenhouse manager for Esbenshade’s Garden Centers’ Lititz store.
ZZ Plants will thrive in low or even artificial indoor lighting. The Raven variety with leaves that fade to black is popular among houseplant collectors.
However, Zamioculcas zamiifolia are highly poisonous, says Kathy Trout, co-owner of Ken’s Gardens.
Eating any part of the ZZ plant can cause vomiting and diarrhea in people and pets.