There are several reasons why many people regard philodendrons as ideal houseplants. They are adaptable and resistant, grow very fast, and are incredibly easy to care for. However, one thing many people are unaware of is that philodendrons are quite toxic.
Philodendrons are poisonous to humans as, like other species in the Araceae family, they contain insoluble oxalates. Insoluble oxalates are tiny crystals that make their way into our bloodstream without being absorbed by them causing pain, nausea, swelling, and inflammation.
In this article, I will tell you more about the health risks associated with keeping a philodendron indoors. I will also give you some practical tips to keep yourself, your family, and your pets safe without having to dispose of your lovely philodendrons.
Philodendrons are poisonous because they contain insoluble calcium oxalates which pose a severe health risk. These oxalates enter bodies on contact and can cause discomfort, especially since they do not leave the body easily.
Oxalates can be found in a wide range of plants, vegetables, and legumes and are not always toxic.
The kind of oxalates contained in the nutritious foods that we consume regularly leave our bodies easily because our bodies are designed in such a way as to get rid of them. They bind to calcium, increasing our risk of developing kidney stones.
Now, calcium oxalates come in two forms, namely soluble and insoluble. Soluble oxalates are the ones that are commonly found in food and are much better than insoluble oxalates because they bind to potassium and sodium. This makes soluble oxalates highly digestible.
Even those of us who struggle to digest them are highly unlikely to end up in the emergency room because of them as they are not toxic.
As the name suggests, soluble oxalates dissolve in water, which means that once they enter a human or animal’s system, they will get through the body’s barriers fairly easily and make their way out of the system relatively quickly.
Unlike soluble oxalates, insoluble oxalates do not dissolve in water, which is why they pose a serious health risk.
Once insoluble oxalate crystals enter our system, they will stay there for a while, triggering a range of unpleasant symptoms. Like dieffenbachias – which are also widely appreciated for their beauty, adaptability, and resistance – philodendrons contain insoluble oxalates.
Contrary to what you may think, one does not need to ingest a philodendron leaf to experience such symptoms. Even touching a philodendron with one’s bare hands can be enough for insoluble calcium oxalates to cause severe discomfort (this applies to humans and animals alike).
While experts are still unsure as to why certain plants contain insoluble oxalates, the Washington-based National Capital Poison Center has a theory: plants like philodendrons and dieffenbachias may use raphides (i.e., the toxic structures resulting from insoluble oxalates) as a shield against herbivores.
This would explain why these plants cause the most discomfort when chewed and swollen. Unlike dieffenbachia, whose every part is poisonous, the philodendron is less “toxic” as the insoluble oxalates are only found in its leaves.
Keep in mind that there are some philodendron varieties (like the split-leaf philodendron) that produce edible fruit – primarily berries. When unripe, the berries produced by philodendron plants also contain insoluble oxalates, so make sure you do not eat them unless they are fully mature.
When it comes to humans, the type and level of discomfort caused by philodendrons depend on two key factors:
- Where insoluble oxalates deposit themselves, as that is the part of the body where they will cause the most damage and inflammation.
- The amount of insoluble oxalates that reach the bloodstream.
First things first, let us keep in mind that even if a small amount of insoluble oxalates make it into your bloodstream, your body will eventually absorb them – unless the lining of your stomach is considerably compromised.
In other words, insoluble oxalates will not stay in your system forever, and even if you do experience any of the symptoms listed in this article, they will most likely be temporary.
The main problem with oxalates, both soluble and insoluble, is that calcium in them is very good at binding to oxalic acid, producing a compound called calcium oxalate. When the insoluble crystals of this compound accumulate in the kidneys, they can easily lead to the formation of kidney stones – most of which are primarily made of calcium oxalate.
For this to happen, however, you have to expose yourself to considerable amounts of insoluble oxalates, which is highly unlikely. So what are the most common effects of philodendrons on humans?
If you ingest a part of the plant that contains insoluble oxalates, you may experience the following symptoms:
- Increased salivation
- Decreased inability to swallow or pain when swallowing
- Loss of speech
If you touch a part of the plant that contains insoluble oxalates, you may experience the following symptoms:
- Redness and rashes
- Bumps, soreness, and blistering
Last but not least, if you touch a part of the plant that contains insoluble oxalates and then rub your eyes, you may experience the following symptoms:
- Corneal abrasion
- Ocular irritation
- In the most severe cases, irreversible eye damage
If you’ve accidentally touched or ingested a philodendron’s sap, chances are the symptoms will go away on their own within a short time.
You probably will not even require medical assistance as there are a few simple ways to relieve the pain and discomfort caused by poisonous plants like philodendrons.
In case of oral exposure, water and ice are your best friends. Start by thoroughly rinsing your mouth with water and spitting everything out.
If your mouth feels sore or irritated, suck on a popsicle or have a very cold beverage to minimize the pain. If drooling, swelling, and painful swallowing persist, you may want to go to the emergency room as soon as possible. If you have touched a philodendron’s sap, wash the affected area with water and soap for a while.
If a philodendron’s sap has gotten into your eyes, you might experience permanent ocular damage. In most cases, the discomfort caused by philodendrons goes away as long as you ensure that you irrigate them with cold water for a few minutes.
Your symptoms should improve within fifteen to twenty minutes. If they do not, you may want to go to the emergency room immediately to avoid more serious consequences.
When pruning a philodendron, for instance, you must protect your skin by wearing thick gloves and, ideally, a pair of gardening goggles. Once you are done pruning your plant, you will have to wash all of your tools with extreme care to make sure the sap does not get onto your hands.
With that being said, should you or your child experience more severe symptoms, you must seek medical attention as soon as possible.
Now that you know how philodendrons affect humans, let me quickly tell you how these plants affect pets. Like peace lilies, dieffenbachias (more commonly known as dumbcanes), pothos, and umbrella plants, philodendrons can be quite harmful to pets as they contain insoluble oxalates.
If these plants are kept within pets’ reach, pets may easily chew or bite into them, which would result in insoluble oxalates penetrating their tissues and/or getting into their gastrointestinal tract.
When this happens, pets may experience irritation of the mouth, difficulty breathing (due to the upper part of their respiratory tract swelling up), and inflammation.
So how can you tell if your pet has touched or ingested a plant containing insoluble oxalates? The Pet Poison Helpline recommends watching out for the following symptoms:
- Excessive salivation and drooling
- Hoarse barking or meowing
- Labored respiration
- Sore mouth
- Nausea and vomit
- Lack of appetite
- Pawning at the mouth
- Dilated eyes
- Swelling in the affected area
Being insoluble oxalates toxic to pets, if any of these symptoms appear, you must seek veterinary help as soon as possible. Symptoms of philodendron poisoning typically take about two hours to become evident, but the timing may vary depending on the amount consumed.
If your pet is vomiting, you may want to examine the vomit for the philodendron’s remains to confirm the problem’s source.
The Pet Poison Helpline is headquartered in Minnesota but will assist you no matter where you are in the United States.
Now that you know how dangerous philodendrons can be to both humans and animals, I am sure you understand why experts suggest keeping them away from pets and children. Even adults should be very careful when handling philodendrons.
Philodendrons are poisonous as their leaves and unripe fruit contains insoluble oxalates – naturally-occurring molecules that neither humans nor animals are capable of digesting correctly.
When we come into contact with these compounds, we may experience a range of undesirable symptoms, including dermatitis, swelling, drooling, and nausea. Rinse the affected area thoroughly with water.
If the symptoms don’t abate in a few minutes, ensure that you get medical attention as soon as possible.
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Hi! I’m Sophia, and I love plants – especially an expert in growing house plants. I stay in Chicago, United States of America, and through my blog and social media platforms, provide tips and tricks on how to grow healthy, vibrant plants indoors. Check out more here.