Handle With Care: 9 Potentially Harmful House Plants

They're beautiful to look at and can help improve air quality, but some of the most prized house plants harbor some potentially harmful toxins.

As the weather turns chilly and you bring your plants indoors, bear in mind that some ornamental plants, if ingested in large enough quantities, can be poisonous to small children and pets.

The most likely victims, experts say, are children under 3 years old and smaller pets. Usually, smaller bodies are affected by smaller amounts of toxin.

"You bring that plant indoors and all of a sudden it's a toy for the black lab. Or kids see berries on the floor and pick them up," said Dr. Krenzelok, director of the Pittsburgh Poison Control Center and a professor at the University of Pittsburgh.

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For decades, he said, plants ranked as the fourth most common type of poisoning exposure in children. The most recent data compiled by the American Association of Poison Control Centers shows that it's dropped to ninth, though he couldn't explain why.

He emphasized that in most cases, a negative reaction won't occur unless a significant amount of the plant is ingested. But he urged people to call 1-800-222-1222 to reach a local poison control center if they are concerned.

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National Gardening Association senior horticulturist Charlie Nardozzi also stressed that he wouldn't discourage people from keeping these plants. "You just have to use some common sense with them," he said.

Keeping the plants out of reach of small children and pets and picking up fallen leaves and berries is most likely enough to ensure safety.

Here are nine plants to handle with care.

Philodendrons

Green, leafy and fairly low maintenance, philodendrons are among the more popular house plants. But though their durability makes them easy to care for, they also contain a toxin in their leaves called calcium oxalate. If ingested by pets or children, they could cause inflammation of the mucus membranes in the mouth and throat.

Krenzelok said he doesn't discourage people from keeping them in the house as the reaction is unlikely to be severe. However, he said it might be wise to keep them out of reach of children.

Philodendron can improve indoor air quality, but can cause irritation if ingested.

Caladium

In the same family as philodendrons (the Araceae family), caladiums, or elephant ears, are also considered beautiful houseplants. But like their greener sibling, they also contain calcium oxalate and can irritate the mouth and throat.

According to the National Institutes of Health, if too much of the plant is ingested, the mouth and tongue can swell. Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea are also possible symptoms.

Caladiums are tropical perennials often exchanged as gifts.

Pretty but Potentially Poisonous Plants

English Ivy

A climbing plant often used in hanging baskets indoors, English Ivy can help improve indoor air quality by removing some pollutants. But it contains potentially-poisonous saponins which could irritate a child or pet.

Krenzelok said if a child picks up and chews fallen leaves, he or she could get an upset stomach. If eaten by a child, he advises parents to take it out of his or her mouth and then rinse out the child's mouth.

English ivy could irritate a child or pet if swallowed in large enough amounts.

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