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Living with Houseplants and Pets

One of the most frequent questions we get in our Houseplants Department is: “What can I grow that’s safe around my pets/children?”  This question can be a bit cringe-worthy; we don’t want to encourage the consumption of any houseplants, even those deemed “safe” because we don’t know what growers have sprayed on them or how they might react with a particular individual.  While most pets and children tend to be oblivious to houseplants, if yours are not or if you’re truly worried that they will develop an interest, the best plant for you is one that’s kept out of reach.

With that disclaimer in mind, here are your best bets for the pet that might occasionally, accidentally find a leaf in their mouth:

African Violets
A favorite at Behnke’s!  These are not considered edible like hardy perennial violets (which share a common name of “violet” but are not closely related), but they’re not considered toxic either.  Click here to read more about them.

Areca Palm
If you’re looking for a larger plant with a tropical feel, try this.

Boston Fern
Not all ferns are considered safe, so make sure the one you’re buying is in fact a Boston fern and not a lookalike.

Christmas Cactus
Possibly the easiest flowering houseplant (click here to read more about it).

Neanthe Bella/Parlor Palm
Slow-growing, it can tolerate lower light than other palms.

Norfolk Island Pine
As old as the dinosaurs, this houseplant has found its place in the modern home.  Give it lots of light and higher humidity.  Click here to read more about it.

Phalaenopsis Orchids
Don’t assume the showy flower is indicative of a finicky nature, they’re actually quite easy to grow and rebloom.  Click here to read more about them.

Ponytail Palm
Not really a palm, but a succulent, this is a good choice if you often forget to water.

Spider Plant
Easy-going and easy to propagate, it will tolerate a wide range of conditions.

There are large categories of plants, like ferns and succulents, that include both toxic and non-toxic plants, so be sure to do some research on these before buying.

Now for the plants that you should absolutely avoid if you have trepidations about your pet/child taking a nibble:


Chinese Evergreen

Dumbcane (Diffenbachia)

Easter lilies and other lilies are very toxic to cats

English Ivy


Peace Lily



(Note: for an excellent houseplant reference, including “Child and Pet Safe” information, check out this article from MOBOT, the Missouri Botanical Garden.)

Stephanie Fleming was raised at Behnke’s Nurseries in Beltsville. Her Mom, Sonja, was one of Albert & Rose Behnke’s four children. She was weeding from the moment she could walk and hiding as soon as she was old enough to run, so many weeds, so little time. Although she quickly learned how to pull out a perennial and get taken off of weed pulling duty.

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