Top 5: Non-Toxic Houseplants

At Floral Acres we are often asked if a particular plant or plants are toxic/poisonous to children and pets.  Thankfully the internet is at our fingertips, and it is easy to look up that information.  A few houseplants are harmful if ingested or even tasted.  A rare few are considered poisonous and will cause death if consumed. 

Plants can also trigger allergies in children and pets.  Ultimately the best step is to consult with your doctor or veterinarian regarding potential plant purchases and place purchased plants in a safe out of reach location in your home.

I like to take a proactive approach to the subject and below have listed the Top 5 houseplants that are non-toxic and an additional 5 at the end of the article.  There are many more!

Boston Fern   -  Nephrolepis exaltata ‘Bostoniensis’

Boston Ferns have lacy fronds that arch over from a central point on the plant.  Many people keep them in the home and even outside in the spring and summer. 

The key to growing Boston Ferns is to provide them with bright, indirect light and high humidity.  This is particularly the case in winter.  They also love a cool location (13-24 degrees C). The ideal location is in a kitchen or bathroom where humidity levels are somewhat high.  Outside those locations, provide extra humidity by keeping a tray of pebbles filled with water under the plant.  Do not let the plant itself sit in the water.  If a Boston Fern develops yellow or brown leaves, the usual reason is lack of humidity.  Once a month it is a good idea to put your Boston Fern in the shower and give it a good soaking – leaves and root ball.  As it dries, leave it in the shower for a few hours to enjoy the extra humidity.

Keep the soil damp at all times.  Fertilize in spring and summer monthly with a half strength all purpose houseplant fertilizer.  Stop fertilizing around August 15 in preparation for winter. 

Repot in spring and early summer or propagate by dividing the root ball in half or thirds.  The root ball is compact and tough so use a serrated knife.  The new soil should be peat based as Boston Fern likes an acidic soil.  After repotting put your Boston Fern in a shady location for 2-3 days so it can recover. 

African Violet  -  Saintpaulia

Photo Courtesy of K. McAndrew

African Violets are a small flowering plant that is a common site in most homes.  They are originally from Tanzania in East Africa. The leaves are soft, fuzzy and the flowers are white, blue, pink, purple and combinations of the above.   There are many varieties and sizes from tiny minis right up to trailing varieties that can be planted into hanging baskets. 

African violets like a medium to bright indirect light location.  Full sun will create large brown sunken spots on the leaves which will not recover from the burn.  Their hairy leaves will get dusty so clean them off with a very soft paint or make-up brush.  Keep the plant away from drafts.

Violets prefer a pot with drain holes and a soil that drains well.  I use an African Violet soil mix with some added perlite to ensure good drainage.  Repot once a year in spring.  Most tropical plant soils contain enough fertilizer to keep a plant well fed for about three months. Otherwise, fertilize with an all -purpose African Violet water- soluble plant food that is high in phosphorous (the middle number). Stop all fertilizing by the 15 of August. 

Use warm water to moisten the soil.  You can let them dry out considerably before watering again.    Bottom water by setting the pot in a shallow dish filled with water.  Do not let the leaves touch the water.  Let it sit for a few minutes.  When the African Violet pot is heavy that will tell you it has reached the saturation point. Discard any excess water.  Keep African violets somewhat root-bound so they will produce flowers. 

African violets are propagated by leaf cuttings.  Cut stems are dipped in a tiny amount of number 1 rooting hormone and stuck into 2.5 inch pots filled with an African violet soil /perlite mix.  Water once, then cover with a clear plastic bag until roots form.  Place your potted cuttings in a bright location but no direct sun. 

Spider Plant  -  Chlorophytum comosum

Spider plants are not only non-toxic but a few of them in your home will help to clean the air.  They are easy to grow and come in solid green or green/white leaf variegations. 

Spider Plants like bright to moderate indirect light.  They like a well drained tropical soil with a small amount of extra perlite added. 

Water when the soil is dry about half- way down the pot.  Drain any excess water in the catch tray after watering as they should not sit in water.   Fertilize every second week in spring and summer only with an all- purpose tropical plant fertilizer. 

Spider plants create ‘pups’ when they are slightly rootbound.  The pups are at the end of long shoots and are a clone of the ‘mother’ plant.  Let the pups reach about 2 inches in diameter, cut the stem off near the pup, dip in number 1 rooting hormone, shake off the excess powder and push it lightly into the moistened soil.  When repotting the mother plant, trim back any long roots and plant in a larger pot with drainage holes.  You can also divide the root ball with a serrated knife. 

Spider plants are often seen with brown tips, dark spots, and the occasional brown leaf.  This can be caused by sunburn, overly dry soil, low humidity, and salts, minerals, chemicals, and fluoride in the water.  Cut back any brown tips to the green part of the leaf and trim off any brown leaves at the base.


Phalaenopsis Orchid    -  (Phalaenopsis amabilis or Moth Orchid)

It is nice to see some beautiful flowering houseplants are on the non-toxic list.    

There are many, many species of Phalaenopsis Orchids.  The flower colors are numerous and come in blotchy or speckled varieties.  The blooms will usually last for several months.  They like a bright, indirect light location in the home away from drafts. 

Phalaenopsis orchids are epiphytic plants, meaning they grow in the trees of a tropical forest and take in nutrients and water through the exposed anchor roots and tough thick leaves.  In our homes it is easiest to have them in a pot filled with medium orchid bark, perlite, sphagnum moss and a bit of charcoal. This helps anchor the plant and exposes the roots to the air.  If a few anchor roots reach out from the pot, do not worry.  If they are green, they are fine.  If silvery white, the plant needs water. 

Water weekly in the morning spring and summer.  The bark mix should always be slightly damp. Fertilize every second week during the growing season with a balanced all purpose orchid fertilizer.  In winter and while blooming fertilize once a month.    

Do not let water sit in the leaves near the stem of the plant.  The new leaves that are forming will rot. 

Phalaenopsis will rebloom once every 8 -12 months.    When blooming occurs, water every other week. To encourage a flower spike the phalaenopsis orchid will need cool nights (if possible, down to 15 degrees C.).

Some mature phalaenopsis orchids will not need to be repotted for 2-3 years.  Never repot while your plant is blooming.  All the blooms will drop off.  Repot anytime from spring to fall after flowering or when new leaf growth appears.  Phalaenopsis orchids will usually lose two bottom leaves and gain two top leaves per year. Another sign that your orchid needs repotting is when the fir bark in the pot has decomposed. 

If you are lucky, your phalaenopsis orchid will produce baby orchids called keiki. They will grow on an old or new flower spike.  Let the keiki grow for a year, carefully remove the keiki and put it in a new pot.  The keiki is ready for its own pot when it has 2-3 leaves and its own roots. 

If you have an orchid that is dropping its buds without blooming this could be caused by sudden changes in temperature, moisture, fertilizer, or humidity. 

Wax Plant   -  Hoya carnosa

Hoyas are a fascinating non-toxic popular tropical vine.  They are a long-lived plant with green or variegated waxy leaves that produces the most unique waxy flowers that are strongly scented at night. These flowers are in drooping clusters that have star shaped thick centers. A sticky residue will sometimes drop from the flowers. This is normal.  Hoyas will bloom at all times of the year except winter depending on the variety. 

There are many Hoya carnosa cultivars.  Hoyas c. are fast growers, and like most plants like a fast- draining tropical plant soil.  They also like humidity and will drop flower buds if the soil is too dry or too wet. Raise the humidity by providing a pebble tray that can be kept filled with water.  Do not let the pot sit in the water.   Bud drop may also be caused by a sudden change of light conditions. 

Place your hoya in bright, indirect light. 

Water the soil when mostly dry and the pot is light in weight. Always water with warm water.  In winter, let the soil dry out thoroughly between watering.  Overwatering is the main cause of hoya death.  Wrinkled leaves are a result of not enough water.    

Fertilize once per month in spring through fall with half strength high K (potassium) liquid fertilizer.  Do not fertilize in winter.  Hoyas will only slow their growth during the short days of winter.  They will not go dormant.   

Hoyas like to be somewhat pot-bound to bloom well.  If you do repot, do this in early spring every 3 years or if the plant has greatly outgrown its pot.  Do not repot while blooming; this will cause the flower buds to drop.  

If you choose to prune your Hoya carnosa; do this in early spring.  Do not cut off the spur where the flowers have and will be produced yearly.  Hoyas have spurs just like apple trees and the spurs should never be removed. 

Propagate your hoya by leaf cuttings in spring.  I have also had great success rooting hoyas in water!  Take a 4-6 inch stem cutting, take off all but two to three top leaves and put it in a small vase of water.  Once roots form and reach about two inches long, plant immediately into tropical soil.  The longer the newly formed roots are in water the harder it is for them to adjust to soil. 


Additional Non-Toxic Plants for Children and Dogs/Cats

1. Christmas Cacti

2. Prayer Plant

3. Peperomia species

4. Cast Iron Plant

5. Aloe Vera

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