TOXIC PRINCIPLES FOUND IN COMMON HOUSEHOLD PLANTS

 A brief lesson in botanical chemistry #PART 1

As discussed in previous articles, there are a number of toxic principles that can be found in common houseplants, which have various side effects on our pet’s overall health. This is because just like other living organism, plants have adapted to protect themselves from any kind of environmental threat. While some do not posses a great threat to anybody, some do, therefore let’s look at some houseplants deemed by the ASPCA as having clinical signs, varying from mild to life threatening ones.

As a disclaimer, this is the result of my own research so far, ergo I encourage you not only to filter the information that I display before you, but also to always keep a close contact with your local veterinarian for more clarification on the matter. Furthermore, keep in mind that like with most important topics that have vast literature dedicated to it, a simple  1058 word article can’t possibly do it justice. Also the short, simplistic and compact nature of this discussion aims to simplify the topic  as to not only appeal to a wider range of audiences, but also to educate myself on the matter while keeping a record of my findings. Finally, I have kept the discussion within the guidelines of apartment gardening, where our space is limited and our pets frequently interact with our plants, compared to if we had a vast open garden. Of course, that being said, if you do have a pet that shows no interest in your plants, you can get away with owning some of the ones that I will be listing bellow but that does not mean that you should not exercise caution.

Now, without further ado, let’s jump into it.

INSOLUBLE CALCIUM OXALATES

A form of crystals found in plant stems, roots and leaves and produced in idioblasts (a plant cell, occurring isolated among other cells of different type), these crystal formations play an important role in certain functions such as tissue calcium regulation, protection from herbivores, and metal detoxification.

“Clinical Signs of calcium oxalate poisoning  found in cats and dogs include intense burning and irritation of mouth, tongue and lips, excessive drooling, vomiting, difficulty swallowing.” – ASPCA (n.d)- “Toxic and Non-Toxic Plants List”

Some of the main popular culprits in this category include:

  • Calla Lily (Zantedeschia aethiopica) Araceae family.
  • Split-leaf Philodendron (Monstera deliciosa) Araceae family.
  • Nephthytis (Syngonium podophyllum) Araceae family.
  • Alocasia (Alocasia spp.) Araceae family.
  • Arum Lily (Zantedeschia aethiopica) Araceae family.
  • Begonia (Begonia spp) Begoniaceae family – Vomiting, salivation in dogs/cats. Most toxic part is underground.
  • Dumbcane (Dieffenbachia) Araceae family.
  • Chinese Evergreen (Aglaonema modestrum) Araceae family.
  • Cordatum (Philodendron oxycardium) Araceae family.
  • Arum (Arum maculatum) Araceae family.
  • Flamingo Flower (Anthurium scherzeranum) Araceae family.
  • Gold Dieffenbachia (Dieffenbachia picta) Araceae family.
  • Shamrock Plant (Oxalis spp). All parts of the plant have toxic potential, although the possibility of serious effects is usually limited to ingestions of large quantities.

It’s safe to assume the most plants found in the Aracea family might be something that we can enjoy from a distance at gardening centers, but not something we can bring into our home without placing them far far away from our four-legged friends.

Think of it in the following terms: two separate worlds, where parties involved here never come in contact with each other; think hanging baskets, upper shelves and semi enclosed terrariums with no contact with your pet. More decoration ideas and pet proofing in future article.

SAPONINS

A class of chemical compounds found in various plant species. These chemical compounds are grouped phenomenologicaly by the soap-like foaming they produce when shaken in aqueous solutions. While saponins have a wide spectrum of clinical uses, such as adjuvants in vaccines, if consumed raw by ingesting parts of the plants that contain this element, our pets could exhibit clinical signs such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. In cats, especially – vomiting (occasionally with blood), depression, anorexia, hypersalivation, dilated pupils. Commercial saponins are extracted mainly from Yucca Schidigera and Quillaja saponaria. Also, the detergent properties of saponins have led to their use in shampoos, facial cleansers and cosmetic creams, so while none of us eat these products, imagine if your pet cawed down on them, and the effects that they could will have.

Some common culprits include:

  • Snake Plant (Sansevieria trifasciata)Agavaceae family – Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea.
  • Corn Plant (Dracaena fragrans) Asparagaceae family.
  • Yucca Plant (Yucca spp) Agavaceae family – Vomiting.
  • English Ivy (Hedera helix) Araliaceae family. Foliage is more toxic than berries. Containes a specific type of saponins called hederagenin
  • Christmas Rose (Helleborus niger) Ranunculaceae family. Additional toxic elements include Cardiac glycosides (which we will discuss further on) and protoanemonin, a toxin found in all plants of the Ranunculaceae family. A wounded plant releases the substance, causing itches, rashes or blistering on contact with the skin or mucosa, ouch! – Drooling, abdominal pain, diarrhea, colic, depression.
  • Holly (Ilex opaca) Aquifoliaceae family. Leaves and berries are low toxicity.
  • Aloe (Aloe vera) Liliaceae family.
  • Cyclamen (Cyclamen spp) Primulaceae family. Popular cool growing flowering plants containing Terpenoid saponins in their tubers that if ingested in large amounts: heart rhythm abnormalities, seizures, death.
  • Hosta (Hosta plataginea) Liliaceae family.
  • American Holly (Ilex opaca) Aquifoliaceae family.

Educating ourselves about what types of plants we bring into our homes, provides us not only with a glimpse into their biology and how they function as a living organism, but it also helps us rethink how we place them in our homes if they posses mildly toxic elements as those discussed above. This being said we can also chose not to include them at all but it always helps to stay informed. That is all that i have for you today and i’ll see you in the next one. Stay tuned till next time for #PART2 where we will discuss common houseplants that posses life threatening toxic elements.

As always all the source material used in this article is listed below so i invite you to take a look and also let me know if there are some plants i might have missed or if there is something you would like to add to this discussion.

References:

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