Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Toxicology Tuesday, January 15

A common phone call at a vet office is "My pet just ate a house plant; is it poisonous?" This is not a "yes or no" question - the answer depends on the type of plant, what part or parts are eaten, perhaps how much the pet ate, and what type/how big the pet is.

Here is a typical group of house plants (mine):

Ignore the Peace Lily in the back right of this photo - we already covered it in a previous post. The rest came in one of those florist's baskets, a mixed arrangement of foliage plants crammed into a too-small container. It was a "Thank you" gift from Heidi's owners (remember Heidi?) I took the arrangement apart and repotted the plants as small groupings.

Group 1

Group 2

What can you tell us about these plants? Do you know their names, or if they are:

Toxic or Not?
. . . . .

Edit: Wed., Jan. 16

So, from the dearth of responses, I can see this is not a popular topic. Tell you what we are going to do. I'm going to give you some more time to research this one, because it is a toughie, and because I am going to be off the air for nearly two weeks (see next entry.) Here are some close-ups of the six plants in question, and I added some hints to the comments section to help you out.

Answers after I return on January 27.

In Group 1, we have the following three plants:

A. Philodendron

B. Dracaena marginata

C. Dieffenbachia

And, these three plants are in Group 2:

D. Aucuba japonica

E. Parlor palm

F. Syngonium podophyllum

See you in a couple of weeks. Have fun!

. . .

----- Answers -----

It's Jan. 27, I'm back, and here are your answers:

A: Philodendron. A very common household plant, the philodendron is in fact toxic. It, like many of the plants shown here, is a member of the Arum family (Araecea), and the toxic element is an oxalate. (more on oxalates below) Personally, I have had many philodendrons over the years and many houseplant-eating dogs and cats, and I have never had this one be chewed by pets. Neither have I seen a case of toxicity related to Phil in my practices.

B. Dracaena marginata.
There are many types of Dracaena, some of which are called "Corn Plants." Most Dracaenas are nontoxic, as is this species.

C. Dieffenbachia. Also called "Dumbcane" for its potential to cause vocal cord paralysis and temporary loss of speech. Listed as toxic, this member of the Arum family also contains calcium oxalates.

D. Aucuba japonica goes by many common names, including Gold Dust Plant, Japanese Aucuba, and Spotted Laurel. It is toxic, too, but here the agent is a glycoside found in the fruit and leaves.

E. The Parlor Palm's Latin name is Chamaedorea elegans, but it is sold as Neanthe bella. (Go figure.) It is nontoxic.

F. Syngonium podophyllum, or Nephthytis, is often called Arrowhead Plant, Arrowhead Vine, or Goosefoot Plant. It is related to Philodendron, and as another member of the Arum family, contains oxalates, making it toxic to pets.

What does all this mean for your pets and mine?

The glycosides found in the Gold Dust Plant are minor toxins. Mild GI upset, vomiting and diarrhea, might be seen if a pet ingests this plant.

Calcium oxalates, the toxic principle of three of the above plants, and the Peace Lily seen in the back right of the first photo, cause oral irritation, drooling, vomiting, difficulty swallowing, and perhaps a loss of voice from vocal cord paralysis. It is rare that a pet would ingest a sufficient quantity to cause serious health risks or death, however.

I am not concerned about keeping any of these plants in my house with my 4 cats and 2 dogs. Interestingly, the two plants receiving the most abuse from my plant-loving cats are the Parlor Palm and the Dracaena, the two nontoxic plants. Is that because they have tried the others and found the bitter taste and oral irritation to be repellent? Is it because the thin leaves look and feel like blades of grass? Or, have we just been lucky? In any event, I do try to keep my cats from chewing the plants, not so much for the cats' sake, as for that of the plants.

The take-home lesson from this exercise is to Know Your Houseplants. You can see this is a challenge, since one plant can have many different common names and even the scientific names may vary. Please, if you have house PETS and house PLANTS, take the time to learn the names of your plants. Do it now, before Fido shreds that thing you got as a housewarming gift from Aunt Fern.

I have two reference books, one by the Sunset publishing house (you can find it at the big box hardware stores) and one by the American Horticultural Society, and I wish I had more. You need at least two books, because no one book will have photographs of every species or variety of houseplant out there. When you buy or receive a new plant, save the care tag that comes attached to it, or at least write down the name.


Lisa said...

I can hear the frantic clicking and page-turning of your readers trying to identify these. Or is that the sighs of people who have decided KatDoc expects too much of them? (I would participate but it would be cheating, as I was present for the planning of this post.)

Kathy said...

Of the six plants in the second and third pictures, I am only able to identify one plant with any degree of certainty. The small, low plant in the front of the pot of picture two is a philodendron, which I have heard is toxic. I don't know what the other plants are, let alone if they are toxic or not. So I have failed the test this week. Time to send me back to botany 101! Big Sigh!!!

Dave W. said...

Without looking them up, the one I would be most concerned with is the largest, which is a diffenbachia (sp?) or dumb cane. The latter name is from it causing the throat to swell of a person or animal that eats it thus making them dumb as in not vocalizing. Probably not a good plant around pets.

KGMom said...

I want to answer, I really do--but my plant brain has fled me.
I used to know the names of many many house plants. And I had about 40 or 50 in the house (no kidding--man, did we breath clean air then). But I got tired of watering, pruning, repotting etc. that many plants. So, bit by bit, they went. I now have only 3 house plants and no memory for plant names.
So--maybe they're toxic, maybe they're not. Beats me.

KatDoc said...

So far, we have two right answers - kathy (philodendron) and dave w. (diffenbachia.) They even had the spelling right!

Of the four remaining plants, two are toxic and two are not, so you have a 50:50 chance of getting a right answer.

C'mon, Junior Toxicologists: Jump in with your best guess!


Julie Zickefoose said...

Aaaaand the Science Chimp swings up to the plate, stung by having misguessed the gestation period of the elephant by 11 months.

A. Heartleaf philodendron, TOXIC.
B. Dracaena marginata Red Dragon Tree--TOXIC.
C. Dieffenbachia--TOXIC
D. Gold Dust Dracaena (or Aucuba japonica, not sure of ID, but both--TOXIC
E. Butterfly Palm Neanthe bella--NONTOXIC
F. Caladium (Araceae)--TOXIC

Jeez. I should be doing my taxes...this is so much more fun. Nice basket you got there, poisonous as heck--I just got one like it, and the only thing I could eat would be the Neanthe palm. Nice. I think floral arrangements sent to animal lovers should be 100% edible. Baker doesn't bother plants inside. Hope you're having fun, snowbird! Weather stinks here!

Kathy said...

After searching in all my plant books, checking on-line plant sites and going to the library, I was unable to figure out plant D for the id, but I'll take my best shot at the rest of them.

A. Philodendron oxycardium - toxic
B. Dracaena marginata - non toxic
C. Dieffenbachia - toxic
D. Mystery plant - toxic
E. Parlor Palm (Chamaedorea elegans) - non toxic
F. Elephant's Ear (Colocasia antiquorum) - toxic

I could only id plant A without looking in books, and didn't know its scientific name without looking either. It is the only plant of this bunch that I have in my house, well out of reach of inquiring critters.

Lisa said...

Try nephthytis, AKA syngonium, for item F. Much more common as a house plant than caladium, not to mention easier to grow. Still an arum, still poisonous.

KatDoc said...

Well done! Between you, I think everything got identified correctly. As a reward, you can have this week off. No Tox Tuesday tomorrow - I have WA-A-Y too many fun Florida photos (and no Toxicology cases in the can) so I'll put up bird stuff instead.


Kathy said...

Welcome back Kathi. Thank you for the week off! I have decided that I need better plant identification books. My pets have never bothered my philodendron, but have nibbled my spider plants at times.