Is Calla Lily Poisonous to Humans? [Why & What to Do]

Calla lilies are a popular plant;  it is not odd to see them in homes, offices, and parks. There have long been rumors about them being poisonous, but people just can’t resist their charm. So are these intriguing beauties as dangerous as some people say?

Calla lilies are poisonous to humans but only to a small extent. The effects are limited to the point of contact, usually the mouth, fingers, or eyes. There are plenty of calla lily poisoning symptoms, but they rarely cause severe illnesses or death.

This article will discuss what makes calla lilies dangerous for humans and how our bodies usually react when exposed to their toxic components. I will then offer tips on what you can do in case of a calla lily exposure and how you can keep your friends and family safe from these deceiving beauties. Let’s start!

Why Calla Lilies Are Poisonous to Humans

Calla lilies may look dainty and unassuming, but they pack quite a punch. They contain the protein asparagine and calcium oxalate crystals — minuscule needle-like crystals that instantly cause pain upon contact.

The calla lily releases these poisonous crystals as soon as it is severed. Calla lilies cause plenty of plant-related poisonings, especially in sunny areas like California or Texas, where these beautiful flowers are grown in abundance.

They are usually accidentally ingested by curious children, eager to find out if the creamy petals are juicy and sweet. Some people may nonchalantly pluck off the flowers, unaware of the potential dangers.

Others admire the flowers, touch them, pinch them, and later rub their eyes or scratch their faces, inadvertently spreading poisonous substances on their skin.

How Calla Lilies Attack

You will find oxalate crystals in a calla lily’s sap, stem, leaves, flowers, and practically in every part of the plant. They are particularly abundant in the roots. Touching the plant does not make it release oxalate crystals but severing it in any way will.

If you tear off a piece of the plant or scratch it, juice loaded with oxalate crystals will emerge from the wound. Contacting the poisonous sap will instantly make your skin itch, burn, or swell.

On the other hand, if you somehow end up putting the severed part of the calla lily in your mouth, the oxalate crystals will instantly stab the delicate tissues in your tongue, gums, and lips.

People who have experienced this likened the sensation to biting into shards of glass. This awful sensation is why poisoning from swallowing calla lily is relatively rare — the pain will instantly make you gag and spit the plant pieces out.

Here are some of the effects of getting into contact with calcium oxalate crystals:

Effects on the mouth:

  • Burning of the lips, tongue, gums, and throat
  • Pain in swallowing
  • Drooling
  • Voice hoarseness
  • Blistering in the tongue and lips.

Effects on the eyes:

  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Burning sensation
  • Tearing
  • Sensitivity to light.

Effects on the body:

  • Inflammation
  • Itching
  • Rashes
  • Stomach pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea.

These symptoms do not usually progress into something serious or fatal. This result is because asparagine and calcium oxalate crystals do not dissolve and thus cannot cause life-threatening poisoning.

Keep in mind, though, that the symptoms, especially if unaddressed, may progress into more severe conditions depending on how an individual reacts to these situations.

What To Do After Eye or Skin Exposure to Calla Lily

Eye and skin irritations due to calla lily poisoning are pretty standard. It is usual for any gardener or plant lover to touch plants. This practice may seem harmless, but it exposes you to many risks. Many common household plants contain poisonous substances, including the infamous calla lily.

After touching these toxic plants, you may be unwittingly spreading these to your eyes when you rub them or to your skin when you scratch them.

You should follow these steps if you experience  eye or skin exposure to calla lilies:

  1. Wash your hands with soap and water.
  2. Rinse the affected area with soap and running water for at least 15 minutes.
  3. Observe and keep track of the symptoms (they should begin to disappear within a few hours slowly).
  4. Call the national toll-free Poison Help hotline (1-800-222-1222) anywhere in the United States if the symptoms intensify.

What To Do if You Ingest Part of a Calla Lily

Children are among the most common victims of calla lilies. They are curious and always want to investigate things, especially if something is new.

Unfortunately, besides needing to touch objects they find attractive, such as calla lilies, most kids also need to smell and taste them. Every part of the calla lily contains calcium oxalate crystals, from the spathe to the spadix to the petals.

You should follow these steps if someone ingests part of a calla lily:

  1. Remove any remaining bits of the calla lily from inside the mouth.
  2. Rinse the lips with soap and water.
  3. Rub the tongue using a cloth dipped in cold water.
  4. Check for any swelling inside the mouth, particularly in the tongue and throat, since this could eventually cause difficulty in breathing.
  5. Give milk or yogurt if there is no swelling. If you notice any swelling or change in alertness, do not give any food or water.
  6. Call your local poison control hotline. Or call the national toll-free Poison Help hotline (1-800-222-1222) from anywhere in the United States to ask for assistance.

Follow all instructions to a tee. It is crucial to act swiftly. Keep a close eye on the person affected and keep track of the symptoms. They should start to disappear within a few hours. Call back your poison control hotline if you notice that the symptoms seem to be getting worse.

If a trip to the hospital is necessary, bring the plant with you for proper identification by experts. The person affected will be observed, and professionals will monitor their vital signs. More severe symptoms tend to resolve within just a day or two, especially if there was no prolonged exposure or contact with calla lilies.

In rare cases, calla lily poisoning symptoms worsen and may even become life-threatening. Note that you should expect these symptoms if the person ingested a substantial amount of calla lily or if there was prolonged or constant exposure to the plant.

Here are some of the more severe effects of calla lily poisoning:

  • Corneal (eye) damage
  • Blocked airways due to swelling of the tongue or throat
  • Severe allergic reactions.

Other Plants Armed With Oxalate Crystals

Surprisingly, there are quite a lot of common household plants that contain poisonous calcium oxalate crystals. Knowing which of our beloved plants pose threats to our families and us would be great so we can be more careful around them. Here are some of them:

  • Spathiphyllum (Peace Lily)
  • Dieffenbachia (Dumb Cane)
  • Philodendrons (some species)
  • Caladium
  • Elephant’s Ears
  • Devil’s Ivy
  • Jack-in-the-Pulpit
  • Mother-in-Law’s Tongue
  • Rhubarb.

How To Keep Yourself and Others Safe From Calla Lilies and Other Poisonous Plants

Calla lilies are a sight to behold with their elegant stems and soft, creamy petals. There has always been a lot of talk about them being poisonous, but this doesn’t stop gardeners and plant lovers from allotting a special spot for these beauties in their gardens and homes. Calla lilies can perk up any space.

This attraction also holds true for other poisonous plants, especially the houseplants mentioned above. They still grace many homes and gardens because of their aesthetic appeal. After all, you can quickly diminish their risks if we take specific measures to keep ourselves and everyone else around them safe.

Here are some tips on how you can keep yourself and others safe from the dangers posed by calla lilies and other poisonous plants:

  • Always wear gloves when handling poisonous plants. In case you accidentally snap off a piece of a plant, your hands are protected.
  • Wear long sleeves, pants, and shoes when venturing outdoors for any plant-related activities. This barrier will protect your skin from getting into contact with any toxic elements.
  • Avoid scratching or touching your face whenever you’re doing any gardening. These can quickly spread irritants, germs, and toxic substances.
  • Lather bentoquatam-rich lotion on exposed skin. This lotion will form a barrier of protection against toxic substances that may come into contact with your skin. 
  • Wash your hands with soap and water after each gardening session. Pay special attention to the undersides of your nails, where tiny particles can easily settle.
  • Wash your gardening tools after each use to eliminate any harmful substances that may have accumulated. Use running water and soap for cleaning, then finish with a good spraying of alcohol to eliminate germs and bacteria.
  • Keep calla lilies and other poisonous plants away from children and pets. Place them on top of high shelves or secure them behind a fence.
  • Do not burn plants that may be poisonous. Inhaling the smoke may cause severe allergies and symptoms.

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Key Takeaways

Calla lilies may not typically inflict life-threatening harm, but this is not a reason to be nonchalant about handling them now that you know they are poisonous. Their classic charm might be challenging to resist since they can add so much life and beauty to a dull space.

Be alert and know what to do in case of an emergency. More importantly, ensure that everyone, especially curious young children, will be safe even with the presence of calla lilies in your home or garden.

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