So I recently was questioned about fiddle leaf figs (ficus lyrata) being pet safe.
I had told this person that FLF is usually fine for homes with pets, (as long as they aren't going to eat the whole plant), and later I was scolded for providing misinformation, this person's friend googled fiddle leaf fig, and apparently, ASPCA website has fiddle-leaf listed as toxic in the completely wrong way.
Let me be clear: ficus lyrata are technically classified as toxic plants. They are classified with level 4 toxicity, which is the mildest class of "toxic". Level 4 generally means that exposure to parts of the plant may cause skin irritation or rash, and obviously, it means it would likely be unpleasant to eat. Plants classified under level 4 are generally not poisonous to the level that you or your pet would need medical attention if a nibble is taken*, that being said, please always do research on the plants you bring home if you have curious or snacky little beings that live with you. If something is not pet-safe, it usually isn't people-safe either (at least in certain amounts), so this is something to keep in mind also if you have small children or babies around that like to put random things in their mouth. (For anyone freaking out right now because your baby just licked a leaf; most toxic plants need to be ingested to be detrimental, there may be a rash or irritation but they should be okay! Follow up with a professional or family doctor if you are not sure)
Upon looking into this FLF issue myself, the only post on the ASPCA website referencing "fiddle-leaf" in their toxic/non-toxic plants section misclassified "fiddle leaf" as philodendron bipennifolium.
I have never heard of this philodendron being called a plants is a list made by the above mentioned University of California Division of Agriculture & Naplant variety. In my experience, philodendron bipennifolium is commonly known as the horsehead philodendron, and is, of course, a philodendron, which can be quite dangerous if ingested by pets or people. Bottom line is, philodendron bipennifolium is not the most common houseplant referred to as "fiddle leaf", (if it is ever called that at all) and the source of information that is misleading is the ASPCA website. My point here is, like everything else online, you need to be wary of where you get your information, not all of it will be from reliable resources. The ASPCA are not plant specialists, they are animal people. If you are ever looking into information on things that could impact the health of those you love, be sure to cross-check reliable resources, especially, in this case, if you are not particularly knowledgeable about animals or plants. This kerfuffle got me thinking that most parents of fur babies looking to expand into the world of plant parenthood may not know where to get reliable information on what plants are or are not pet safe, and what is safe enough to try, or not a good idea to try at all. If you google "toxic plants" one of the first results is for the ASPCA animal poison control page, but after this "fiddle leaf" section, I'm not sure they should be the go-to for people looking for information on this topic, since, as I said, they are not experts on plants. My goal is to make sure that anyone looking for resources and information on the topic of plant toxicity can find as much of that as possible in one place.
Let's start with some basics: There are different levels of plant toxicity
Toxic plants can be categorized into different levels of toxicity some are more dangerous than others, and understanding this will help you determine if you want to bring that plant into your home. The 4-tiered approach that I found being utilized by the University of California is a great way to understand plant toxicity. 1 is the most toxic, and 4 is the least, each presents different issues, some plants have more than one level.
Major Toxicity: These plants may cause serious illness or death. If ingested, immediately call the Poison Control Center -- (800) 222-1222 -- or your doctor.
Minor Toxicity: Ingestion of these plants may cause minor illnesses such as vomiting or diarrhea. If ingested, call the Poison Control Center or your doctor.
Oxalates: The juice or sap of these plants contains oxalate crystals. These needle-shaped crystals can irritate the skin, mouth, tongue, and throat, resulting in throat swelling, breathing difficulties, burning pain, and stomach upset. Call the Poison Control Center or your doctor if any of these symptoms appear following ingestion of plants.
Dermatitis: The juice, sap, leaves, or thorns of these plants may cause a skin rash or irritation. Wash the affected area of skin with soap and water as soon as possible after contact. The rashes may be very serious and painful. Call the Poison Control Center or your doctor if symptoms appear following contact with the plants.
These are the most common reason that plants are classified as toxic, some plants fall under one level, others fall into two or three. The bottom line is, some plants can be poisonous if you eat them, others can cause irritation of the skin if you touch them. For some plants, all parts of the plant are toxic, others, only certain parts of the plant are. Plants can vary from mildly irritating to poisonous, and some can cause death to your pets, your children, or even you. At the end of the day, if you want to expand your plant collection with pets or small children, you aren't going to have many options if you write off everything with "toxic" classification. Since many popular houseplants are somewhere on the toxic spectrum, it is important to understand: 1. if the plant is toxic, 2. what are the reported side effects if touched or ingested 3. do you have anyone or anything that is at high risk of being affected.
One of my go-to resources for referencing the toxicity of plants is a list made by the above mentioned University of California Division of Agriculture & Natural Resources. The school has a great little resource center for learning about safe & poisonous plants & uses the 4 level system to classify toxicity.
I find that university studies and posts can be some of the most reliable sources of information, and since many of these keep the information on public webpages, what they have found or are studying can be utilized by all of us. Although sites like the ASPCA are reputable in their own way, they are not experts in the area of plants and they are more likely to have errors or unqualified information. My favorite part about the UCDANR page is that it gives you options to search for safe & toxic plants alphabetically by scientific name or common name. They also provide a link to UC Berkley CalPhotos Plants website where you can search for a photo of almost any plant by common or scientific name, which can be helpful if you aren't sure exactly what plant you have.
Another one of my favorite resources for this information is Cornell's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences site for plants poisonous to livestock. I know that not many of us have livestock living among our houseplants, but the site's landing page has some very informational language that sort of drives home one of my favorite points, that just because something is poisonous, doesn't necessarily mean it is deadly. I would like to reiterate a point highlighted on the page:
IMPORTANT: Just because something is on the poisonous plants list doesn't mean it can't be a good food or feed, and just because it is absent from the list doesn't mean it is safe!
Not all plants classified as toxic are dangerous in every environment. Cornell even has a way you can narrow your search by species, this includes human, cat, dog & even rabbit! They don't limit the information to plants here, so if your looking for more information on this topic, check them out! You can also search the plants by name, and it will give you an idea if it is toxic to you or your animals and what parts of the plant are most notably toxic. Oh, and their FAQ responses are just candid and delightful, and some can remind you that although something is edible and safe for humans does not mean other animals won't see effects (and vice versa).
These aren't the only good sources for researching plants and potential toxicity. Here are some other great references:
UCDavis School of Veterinary Medicine (for the article on poisonous plants, press CTL+F & search "Beware: pets and toxic plants")
Oklahoma State University School of Veterinary Medicine Toxic Plants & OSU IEATPLANTS Living Laboratory Plants of the World Online Search from Kew Sciences (keyword search for "toxic" or the plant variety you want to research) Ross University Poisonous Plant Guide (common names)
There are definitely more reliable sources out there for this kind of information, but these are sites that I have found to be extremely helpful. I will continue to edit this post as I find more information that is helpful! Additionally, check out my post on recommendations for pet-safe and low risk plants.
*Please note that there is always a possibility that there could be more serious effects if a plant of any toxicity level is consumed and caution should always be taken. There is always a chance that a pet or person could have an allergy or issue with any plant, toxic or not. If there are any signs of poisoning with a pet or small child you should seek the help of a professional: call 1-800-222-1222 or visit poison.org for online help. For pets specifically akcreunite.org. I'm sure there are plenty of other factors that could contribute to issues with pets eating plants and most popular houseplants are toxic at some level. I am not a vet or animal expert, however, in my experience, most cats & dogs don't care to eat anything leafy & green and live pretty much without issues around plants. THAT IS NOT THE CASE FOR EVERYONE. If you have a pet (especially one that is curious and/or snacky) always research and take into account the toxicity of the plants you want to bring into your home.
Do you have any recommendations for additional sources of this kind of information?? Let me know!