What is Plant Toxicity?

Is there a creature making a meal out of your plant? Let’s take a look at the fascinating way plants protect themselves from being eaten.

What is Plant Toxicity?

Words by The Sill

Common Care Questions Next Article
Is there a creature making a meal out of your plant? Let’s take a look at the fascinating way plants protect themselves from being eaten.

Plant toxicity is a naturally occurring, chemical process of a plant defending itself against being eaten (herbivory). Some plants create or secrete what are called secondary plant metabolites. The purpose of these is to defend against herbivory. This is a mostly successful process — plants have been doing this for millions of years! For example, poisonous sap from a rubber tree protects it from many herbivores. 

Not all secondary plant metabolites repel though, and some may actually attract plant-eating creatures. Some metabolites are irritating, but not fatal. For example, aroids like the Pothos create crystal raphides which are physical irritants, but are by no means fatal. Raw succulent juices are not fatal either, but can induce vomiting. And limonene is the compound that gives lemons their citrus scent, and while fatally repellent to moths, it is pleasing to humans. 

Remember, a plants’ toxicity can make us sick or worse, but only if consumed. As long and you are not chewing on your houseplants, you'll be fine. But what about your curious pets? 

Cats and dogs are different animals, but tend to chew on plants for similar reasons. Most of the time it is because they are bored or under stimulated. We recommend bringing home a new pet toy when you bring home a new plant to help sway their attention, or placing new plants up high out of their reach. Some pets will not be interested in your plants at all, but others will be.

If you're looking for a new pet-safe plant, you can check out ASPCA’s list, or go with one of our recommendations below.

Parlor Palm 
The Parlor Palm’s easy-going nature and tropical feel make it a popular houseplant. In fact, it has been cultivated since the Victorian era for its resilience to indoor conditions and vertical growth habit. 

Xerographica Air Plant
If your four legged friend likes to dig in the dirt (or potting mix), skip the mess and try an air plant. This epiphytic plant is like a living sculpture for your space, no planter or potting required. 

Calathea Rattlesnake
Also called a prayer plant, the Calathea Rattlesnake raises and lowers its leaves from day to night, a phenomenon called nyctinasty (check out a time lapse here). Despite its name, it won't bite back if munched on. 

Calathea Makoyana
Another popular variety of Calathea, the Makoyana is affectionately called the peacock plant because of its long wavy green leaves with deep green brushstroke pattern and deep purple underside. 

Discover more pet-safe houseplants here.

Welcome to our community!

Shopping with The Sill means you’re supported every step of your plant parenthood journey. Learn more about our Reward Program.

Learn More

The Benefits of Houseplants

Indoor plants don’t just look good, they make us feel good mentally and physically, too. They've been shown to boost moods, increase creativity, an...

Understanding Lighting in Your Home and How It Affects Your Plants

If you’re looking to add new houseplants to your space, there’s one big factor you have to keep in mind: the kind of lighting you have at home. He...

To Pot or Not to Pot: Grow Pot vs Planter

So your plant arrived in its nursery grow pot, now what? Read on to find out whether to keep it in its grow pot, or repot it into a planter.

Key Plant Terms Glossary

Plant Physiology   Node Nodes are the places on a stem where leaves attach, and buds are. Buds may be recessed into the stem, but the node is usual...

Signs of Overwatering Your Plants

How do I know if I’m overwatering my houseplants? It’s easy to want to give your plant babies too much love and attention — but did you know overwa...

Best Time to Water Your Plants

When watering your houseplants, keep in mind the time of day. The best time to water indoor plants is during the morning hours, before the sunshine...

Size Matters

If the difference in your plant collection is a matter of size, you’ll want to make sure your small and big plants are getting the care they need. ...

Health Is Wealth, Get That (Plant) Green

Loving your plant is easy enough, but how well do we know our plants? While we fall hard and fast in love with plants, make them the center of atte...

Growth Spurts

Plants are like children in that, they grow up so fast. Ask any plant parent, or human parent for that matter. But the rate at which plants, like p...

New Digs: Moving Plants Small & Tall Short & Long Distances

Moving to a new home or apartment? Instead of painful, the process should be precious, especially if you are packing up a few plants. Keep these ti...

Calcium Buildup 101

Calcium. The stuff of strong bones is an essential element for all life. But while it’s necessary, sometimes calcium can buildup. Here’s the what, ...

5 Causes For Your Plant’s Yellow Leaves

If you’ve ever seen yellow leaves on your what-was-once-green-plant, read on to find out the causes, symptoms and solutions. It’s going to be fine!

Just Say No: Leaf Shine

Because plants should look like plants. Not plastic. First things first: We do not recommend using leaf-shining products on your houseplants. Plant...

Plant Care: Potting Mix 101

Most plants need soil to live. It’s where their roots are and where they get their water from. But it may surprise you to learn that not all soil i...

Plant Care: Fertilizer

You know your new plant needs the right light and just enough water, but what about fertilizer? While it can be great for plants in the long-term, ...

How To Repot Your Houseplant

With some simple tips and tricks, potting your houseplants is easy. If you want to switch up the decor or your plant is overgrown, proper potting i...