Finding Pet-Safe Houseplants that May Help Clean Air

Written by Alicia R.

Houseplants are refreshing to the eye and spirit for people and pets alike. Greenery may even refresh indoor air, although research on that topic is inconclusive about how toxin and plant interaction in the in sealed, closed rooms of scientific studies will translate to home environments.

But it can be difficult to select houseplants to perk up your indoor landscape if you want kinds that may clean up your air and that definitely won’t be toxic to overly curious pets.

If  your cat, dog, or both tend to nibble on plants, it can result in veterinary visits as well as messy crashes or toileting accidents (another fresh air problem). So, how can you find plants that are pretty, easy to maintain, possibly freshen the air, and won’t result in pet emergencies?

We can help you sort out this matrix of concerns beginning with plant toxicity for pets.

ASPCA Toxic and Non-Toxic Plants List

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals profiles more than 1,000 common plants identifying whether they are (1) nontoxic, (2) potentially toxic (causing mild gastro-intestinal upset), or (3) toxic (poisonous) to cats, dogs, and horses. It’s unlikely that any of you keep horses in your living rooms, but the ASPCA database covers both indoor and outdoor plants.

Each plant description is photo-illustrated and contains information such as scientific name, safety, and any symptoms that may occur when ingested. You may be surprised by some of the plants that can harm or, at least, cause intestinal distress for pets. For example, the ASPCA warns that catnip may cause “vomiting and diarrhea.”

Bookmark the ASPCA list on your cell phone and take it with you whenever shopping for plants. We’ll discuss some of the plants that receive safe versus toxic ratings in a bit, but first here’s some information about air quality research.

Houseplants and Air Quality

In the late 1980s, NASA completed a study titled Interior Landscape Plants for Indoor Air Pollution Abatement, which particularly aimed at seeking solutions to sick building syndrome — a situation that NASA reasoned could arise in space travel and colonization.

The study screened about 15 common houseplants (the study didn’t provide one list of all plants tested) from Aloe vera to Peace lily. They were placed in air-tight plexiglass containers and exposed to gases of three chemicals — benzene, trichloroethylene, and formaldehyde — commonly occurring at that time in products ranging from building materials to makeup.

Plant air purification abilities varied. For example, NASA found that Gerber daisy (Gerbera jamesonii) was (1) tops for absorbing benzene, (2) in second place following pot mum (Chrysanthemum morifolium) for  trichloroethylene, and (3) tied for second with striped Dracaena (Dracaena deremensis ‘Warneckii’) for cleaning up formaldehyde. Whereas pot mum showed strong results for all three toxins, the dracaena, like many of the plants tested, packed a weak punch for trichloroethylene.

However, a 2016 study led by Vadoud Niri at the State University of New York, Oswego, found that another type of Dracaena —  corn plant (Dracaena fragrans massangeana) — absorbs about 94 percent of off gassed acetone. This is good news for anyone who uses nail polish remover.

By the way, among the plants mentioned so far, the only one safe for cats and dogs is Gerber daisy.

Science Daily reports on a March 2018 scientific literature review by a team of plant physiologists titled Plants for Sustainable Improvement of Indoor Air Quality. The team concluded that research about plant impact on indoor air quality is scarce and that new studies should consider how plants might work along with computerized tools for controlling heating, ventilation, and air conditioning to improve energy consumption as well as air quality.

Despite not being able to list lots of plants that will clean up air quality in your home, we can name some to choose or avoid for pet safety. That should help you breathe a little easier.

Houseplants that Are Bad for Pets

You may be surprised by some common houseplants that are toxic to cats and dogs. The list includes English ivy, Ficus (fig trees), heartleaf philodendron, jade plant, mother-in-law’s tongue, shamrock, and wandering jew. There are way too many houseplants to provide a comprehensive list of toxic ones here. So, please check the ASPCA list before making a purchase.

Houseplants that Are Safe for Pets

Here are some popular, easy-care houseplants that are nontoxic for cats and dogs:

African violet (Saintpaulia)

Aluminum plant (Pilea cadieri)

Asparagus fern (Asparagus densiflorus cv sprengeri)

Areca palm (Dipsis lutescens)

Blushing bromeliad (Neoregalia)

Boston fern (Nephrolepis exalta bostoniensis)

Burro’s tail (Sedum morganianum)

Cast iron plant (Aspidistra elatior)

Golden bamboo (Phyllostachys aurea)

Peacock or zebra plant (Calathea)

Polka dot plant (Hypoestes phyllostachya)

Rubber plant (Peperomia obtusifolia)

Spider plant (Anthericum comosum).

Houseplant Availability at Green Thumb

Are all the pet-safe plants we mention in this article available at your local Green Thumb Nursery Center? The answer is that stock comes and goes. It also varies at each store so that what is at one center may not be in at another during the same week. Please visit or contact us, and we’ll gladly do a search for you. We’re also glad to answer questions about lighting and watering needs and to help you select potting soil and planters.

 

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