This post is a quick turnaround response to my former article entitled, Houseplants to Brighten Your Winter. You see, as a person who enjoys and respects all forms of nature, especially our children and pets, it was reasonably assumed I featured only child-proof and pet-safe options in my former article and this is not the case. I admit, I did not consider toxicity simply because my current dog and cat are not prone to disturbing indoor plants and I do not presently have toddlers in the home. Of course, not all pets or kids are the same. Some are a little more adventurous and curious than others! If you have a toddler or two, a dog or cat or two, or any combination, there are indeed a few alternative houseplants you may wish to consider in your home instead of those I emphasized in my latest post. Actually, some on the below list are a bit more colorful and interesting than those houseplants previously highlighted, albeit they are a tad more persnickety too! But, armed with a little advanced knowledge, you can lessen any intimidation you may have regarding growing these non-toxic species.
It is important to note that as I provide alternatives, I do not wish to cause undue panic regarding the houseplants I previously recommended. While you may find some of them on one or more toxic lists, you’ll find they vary in degree of toxicity depending on the reporting organization and depending upon how much of the plant is ingested. I believe the best news I found while researching this topic is that it usually takes a large amount of a toxic plant to be ingested to cause serious harm.
Incidentally, you may find Dracaena listed on some websites as poisonous and on others as safe. This speaks to varied information published about the toxicity of houseplants. To be on the safe side, however, any plant you are not certain about would best be moved to a child-free & pet-free office or placed in an area of your home that is inaccessible to little ones. Inaccessible options may consist of high floating shelves, plant ledges, mini-greenhouses/terrariums and indoor hanging baskets.
On to the alternatives: Houseplants deemed safe for pets and children by most organizations are African Violet, Areca Palm, Boston Fern, Bromeliad, Christmas Cactus, and Spider Plant. I possess a few of these plants now and have grown all of them at one time or another. While most may not all fall into the category of “easy” as are those in my former post, they are indeed worthy of giving them a chance.
African Violet, or Saintpaulia ionatha, is a dainty, blooming plant you may wish to add to a window with bright, indirect light or to an artificially lighted desk space in your home or office. It is a petite houseplant that possesses fuzzy leaves and generally, blooms within the color range of purples. See featured photo at the beginning of this post. I’ll warn you now that the Farmer’s Almanac’s name for this plant is “Fusspot”. The reason for this name is the plant has several requirements to be met before it will bloom:
- 14 hours of bright, indirect light
- 8 hours of complete darkness
- Room temperature must range between 70 and 80F
- Always use water that is at room temperature
- Soil should not be dry or saturated – must be just right!
- When watering, avoid splashing leaves
I have grown African Violets previously and was successful with them for the most part. I invested in a two piece, self-watering pot specifically for African Violets – one that prevents over-watering and allows the plant to obtain moisture when needed. One tip I read recently – although the self-watering pots are great for African Violets, it is best to replace any water that has sat in the reservoir for several days in order to reduce mineral build-up. All the above tasks aside, a former co-worker of mine had an African Violet under her desk lamp and it thrived and bloomed there for years.
Areca Palm, or Dypsis lutescens, is a non-toxic alternative to the Dracaena with regard to bringing a tropical feel to your indoors. It is a frilly palm that enjoys bright, indirect light and can reach up to 8 feet tall. Thus, this palm can fill and soften a brightly lit, vacant spot in your home or office quite easily. Although palms enjoy warmer climates and indoor temperatures, they also prefer higher humidity than what is usually experienced indoors. Dry, heated air can sometimes make palms more susceptible to pests – red spider mites and mealy bugs in particular. Both of these pests can be eliminated with a light spray of horticultural (neem) oil, however. In order to keep your Areca Palm healthy and happy, running a humidifier in the room during the drier winter months may prove to be quite beneficial. And, while they enjoy surrounding humidity, Areca Palms do not like wet feet. Water your palm only when the topsoil has dried and do not allow it to sit for any length of time in water.
Boston Fern, or Nephrolepis exaltata, is another non-toxic houseplant you may wish to consider in your work/living spaces. Boston ferns are not especially tall, but they are full, lush and green. They look especially attractive in urn-like pots that beautifully display their rays of fronds. Like the Areca Palm above, Boston Ferns like high humidity, especially in the winter. You may wish to place these two plants in the same room so a humidifier can do double-duty and both plants can take advantage of bright, indirect lighting. If the room is too dry, the fern can develop the same types of pests as the palm. The same treatment (neem oil) will work for the fern, too. A difference between the two is the Boston Fern enjoys a bit more water than the palm. Keeping the topsoil moist (not wet) is ideal.
Bromeliads are very colorful, non-toxic houseplants and their “blooms” last for months. I’ve showcased this family of plants a couple of times in my blog, so just click on the intro link to this paragraph and you will find tips and tricks for successfully growing and propagating Bromeliads for indoors.
Christmas Cactus is another safe houseplant I have written about in the past. This plant is stunning when in bloom. The blooms of a Christmas Cactus will not last as long as those of Bromeliads. However, nothing matches the anticipation of seeing these beautiful, wintertime blooms and noting whether or not they will burst open by Dec 25th! Click on the introductory link at the beginning of this paragraph for tips on how to care for this tropical delight.
Spider Plant, Chlorophytum comosum or commonly known as the Airplane Plant, is the easiest of the safe houseplants on this list to grow. In my opinion, the Spider Plant looks like variegated Liriope – arching blades of green and white striped grass. It is especially pretty when placed in a hanging basket or an urn. Although most houseplants provide some filtration of indoor air, the Spider Plant is considered one of the best houseplants to effectively remove formaldehyde.
This houseplant also reproduces abundantly. It does so by sending out long tendrils from the mother plant which inconspicuously flower and ultimately develop tiny plants at their base; tiny plants (spiderettes) that look like spiders dangling from silk webs. Those who have their plant in a hanging basket may choose to leave the babies intact for a while as they bring fullness and interest to the plant. However, some may cut the tiny plants from the mother and root them to form new plants fairly quickly. Others have better luck placing small pots around the (non-hanging) mother plant and rooting the babies before cutting the cord, so to speak. While the spider plant is not as finicky as some of those plants previously highlighted in this article, it does grow best under similar circumstances: exposure to bright, indirect light; water thoroughly and wait until topsoil is dry to the touch before doing so again; and keep in a high humidity area/room. When the edges of leaves turn dry and brown (common) on your Spider Plant, simply snip the brown areas with garden scissors and consider misting the plant now and then. Fortunately, pests are rarely found on the Spider Plant.
In conclusion, if you have little kids, dogs and/or cats, you may feel more comfortable integrating a few of the non-toxic houseplants mentioned in this article into your home. And, with regard to basic care for these and those mentioned in the previous post, just “think rainforest”. Most houseplants originate from tropical climes and thus, enjoy high humidity, well-draining soil and abundant indirect light. Of course, a few of the plants in this article require additional specific conditions for blooms to form, but I consider flowers on houseplants as icing on the cake. The soothing greenery and healing, air-filtering qualities are reasons enough to adorn your indoors with a few varieties.
Until next time,