Pro-Garfield Gardening 101: Watch Out for 17 Poisonous Plants for Cats
People often believe that cats and plants are incompatible in one home – and often for the right reasons. While most breeds of cats are likely to maul your fragile botanical collections, a certain type of plants also proves to be poisonous to your mischievous feline animal companion at close contact. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty against Animals (ASPCA) listed roughly 417 generic plants that are toxic to your feline pet.
The conventional wisdom often suggests that you can only keep one and forego the other. But if you’re an aspiring cat owner who also aims to foster a verdant greenery in your property, there is always a way to keep both. You can build a personal paradise that allows both creatures to coexist, granted that you watch out for these 17 poisonous plants:
The aloe seems to be a perfect choice for a succulent bush for every household that prefers something that is both attractive and useful. Unlike different varieties of cacti, this plant does not punish curious house pets with their ruthless spines. Curiously, the gooey water stored inside the aloe’s fleshy leaves were being used as a natural wound poultice since Ancient Greece.
It is only unfortunate that this plant proves to be toxic for your indoor cats. The aloe could cause weakness, diarrhea, vomiting, and abnormal urine color. In rare cases, some cats could suffer uncontrollable trembling due to damaged nerves.
There are other non-cacti succulents you can substitute for aloe. The blue echeveria, for instance, has neater and more symmetrically arranged petals. Other succulents like earth star, hens & chicks, and wax plant (hoya) thrive in the southernmost terrains of the United States like New Mexico and Florida. The ghost plant (x pachyveria) even emits a curiously faint ‘moon glow.’
It is natural for any household to have chosen the exotic but popular azalea as the ideal outdoor flowering bush. This shrub grows up to 10 feet high, towering over people with its brightly colored blossoms. Its blooms come in various shades of pink and an occasional golden pallor. The azalea is a famous domestic plant in East Asia and is often a subject of artistic cultivation (e.g. bonsai).
While the azalea could bring serenity into your home, it could also bring a huge tragedy if you’re a cat owner. This flowering bush can cause a wide variety of serious adverse effects. Among the most irreversible ills your cat can acquire includes coma and blindness. Your cat will be extremely fortunate to get away with vomiting and diarrhea.
As a more useful substitute, the bougainvillea generates blooms of peachy shades and can even keep burglars at bay with their thorns (if planted near a fence). Other plants reminiscent of the azalea’s floral opulence includes the flowering quince, ocean spray, and mahonia (Oregon grape). If you live in colder territories like Michigan, Montana, North Dakota, and Wisconsin; the Pacific Ninebark could be your best bet.
The American beech is one of the most important forest trees in the United States. Ten years after it is planted, this tree can already surpass the average height of any person twofold. Other than excellent shade, appealing autumn backdrop, and an enduring legacy for the next generation; the other two best reasons for cultivating beech trees include good lumber material and firewood.
As useful as they may seem, these trees pose a great threat to your cat’s safety. Those that were very fortunate enough to be spared from coma, seizure and sudden collapse could be suffering from a ruthless combination of diarrhea, severe abdominal pain, and motor disorientation.
Instead of beech, you can opt to plant basswood, larch and red pine for excellent lumber material (both for building and craftsmanship). In fact, basswoods and larches grow faster than the beech trees. The aspen also proves to be an excellent source of non-toxic firewood that can thrive anywhere from the northernmost part of Montana to the middle of Texas. You can also plant a sycamore tree for a model tree-house host – with up to 90 degrees of angular branch coverage.
Despite its many possible uses, there are two foremost reasons for growing cherry trees. People want its fruit for confection recipes and its timber for luxury woodwork. In fact, you can bake as much as 30 cherry pies (clafoutis) from a single fully grown tree!
If you love both cherries and cats, it is best to acquire the former at a grocery store. Growing a cherry tree in your backyard is so toxic it can literally kill your beloved feline companion. A cat that did not succumb to the sudden shock of its close encounter with this horrific tree is literally fighting for survival with every labored breath while being rushed to the vet clinic.
It is important to take note that, while every part of the plant is potentially lethal, most berries (including cherries) are generally safe for cats to eat. By this principle, you can instead grow raspberry bushes as they are not only non-toxic; they are also time- and space-efficient plants. Locust pods are also ideal alternatives for non-toxic fruit-bearing trees that produce a safer substitute for chocolates (carobs). For alternative trees that yield even better furniture lumber, you can opt for black walnuts, chestnuts, and pig hickories.
In Ancient Greek mythology, a mortal man named Narcissus possessed such beauty that even goddesses developed an unhealthy obsession with him. In time, he died of a very embarrassing death – drowning over his own reflection in the water. Fortunately, people do not need to learn this potentially absurd folklore to understand why they often extol this plant in an expensive vase. Apart from being a sentimental gift on Valentine’s Day, people grow daffodils because these flowers possess a crucial chemical compound for manufacturing perfumes.
Just like the personality of its namesake mythological character, the daffodil is toxic not only for cats but also for people. Fortunately, none of the feline adverse effects are proven to be immediately deadly or irreversible. The worst symptoms include breathing difficulty, irregular heartbeats and possible dehydration (from vomiting and/or diarrhea).
Native to the New South Wales (Australia and New Zealand) and its neighboring Southeast Asian countries (the Philippines and Indonesia), the eucalyptus tree is one of the most therapeutic plants to grow in the mid-southern hemisphere of the United States. Aside from feeding a koala bear, the eucalyptus leaves are also used as natural air fresheners and disinfectants. Lastly, the fragrant oils extracted from this plant are used as a basic ingredient for a wide variety of pain relief.
Unfortunately, this plant creates an unpleasant contamination in a cat’s physiological system. While the clinical signs of intoxication are far from lethal; no cat deserves to experience a possible combination of depression, drooling, vomiting and diarrhea in one day.
Going for an organic herbal lifestyle does not necessarily require putting your cat in a world of hurt. The crushed barks of a cinnamon tree were one of Asia’s most precious commodities still valued today as an antioxidant-rich spice. For herbs that are also deemed non-toxic to cats, you can also grow peppermint and rosemary in your backyard. The fragrant Atlas cedars and junipers could be a good alternative for a cat-friendly outdoor deodorizer.
Few flowers convey symbolic beauty in the plane of religious importance, and even fewer still have transcended its usefulness in advanced scientific applications. Apart from being one of the fewest flowers associated with the Christian mother of God, the foxglove is best appreciated in the realm of molecular biology. This flower contains a chemical compound that allows scientists to detect DNA and RNA structures – the key to a more precise and detailed understanding of the chemical principles behind treating complex diseases.
In its raw form, the foxglove is notorious for its toxicity. In fact, it is one of the fewest flowers in history to have the most prodigious documentation for poisoning. Anything that is potent enough to kill persons who merely drank water from inside its floral bulb is more than formidable enough to kill a cat. Apart from death, other feline adverse effects include seizure, collapse, and heart failure.
One can strongly argue that the foxglove is best suited for the non-residential setting. A better group of domestic-friendly alternatives include beardtongue, coral bell, and snapdragon. The hollyhock may be the most suitable medicinal counterpart considering that it is both edible and can thrive in almost any temperate zone in the country. If you value the foxglove solely for its beauty, why not just go for the original American Beauty (rose)?
In ancient Greek mythology, larkspur sprang from the ground drenched by the blood of the Trojan War veteran Ajax – the era’s perfect model for toxic masculinity. But classic folklore aside, the larkspur was the Greek soldier’s protection from festering wounds and lice infestation. Among ancient craftsmen, they mix larkspur juice with alum to produce deep blue/purple textile.
Anyone who believes in the classical mythology is bound to figure out that the larkspur’s toxicity might be more than a coincidence. In fact, this flower is not recommended for internal use because of its venom. Cats that could not have known better (and took a bite on the purple buds) could end up dead – if not paralyzed or permanently plagued by spasms.
If you value larkspur for its appearance, you can opt for safer similar-looking alternatives like the African violet, Chinese plumbago, and summer hyacinth. If you want a flower with a contrasting color and far safer medicinal applications, the nasturtium can be your ideal garden bloom. But nothing puts larkspur to shame better than lavender as it not only imitates its iconic purple blue shades, it also has an impressive list of culinary, therapeutic, and even academic uses.
The lily flower is one of the most popularly cultivated flowers in the world. Interestingly, there are over 90 lily species known worldwide. As far as history is concerned, one of the earliest (if not the earliest) records of the ancient botanists’ encounter with this plant was around 1580 BC in the Greek island of Crete. Aside from being a highly aesthetic and culturally significant flower, this plant is added as a culinary recipe in North America and four East Asian nations (China, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan).
Regardless of how globally important the lily is, you must not allow your cats to get near them. As far as statistics are concerned, the lily is considered the most toxic plant for your feline animal companion. Immediate exposure could lead to kidney failure, weakness, diarrhea, and vomiting. However, your cat could die if it remains untreated within 18 hours.
While lilies are dangerous to your cat, it is interesting to take note that not every flower that bears its namesake suffix poses such a threat. Such non-toxic alternatives include the Calla and the Peruvian lilies. The moth orchid is also a suitable pet-safe substitute. Like lilies, the marigold is also edible but even offers the advantage of being therapeutic. Lastly, you can replace lilies with the flowering bush called the bride’s bonnet as it can thrive in areas with relatively colder climate.
As of 2018, there are already 8 US states that legalized the recreational marijuana use. While this plant is supposedly valued for its very broad range of industrial uses, it was the controversial reputation as an addicting substance that really gets the widest public attention.
If you’re a cat owner in Colorado or Alaska, the importance of your feline companion’s life is more than enough reason to even forego the thought of cultivating this plant. The marijuana is proven to be very toxic to cats. In fact, they may likely die from overexposure to this plant – and that is (arguably) a merciful fate than coma or seizure.
Getting high does not have to be deadly for your beloved fur babies. In fact, non-toxic plants like moss phlox and white sage offer the same ‘elevated perspective’ when smoked. If you prefer something strong (concentrated enough to repel insects), growing spider flowers could be a suitable alternative. Smoking a damiana flower leaves a curious lemon aftertaste, although it can only grow in warmer terrains. But if you want to go traditional and wholesome, you can brew narcotic beverage from a kava plant.
Despite how generally well-known the mistletoe is, only a few could have acknowledged the fact that it is technically a plant parasite – not a plant itself. It cannot thrive independently on any soil and it can only sustain itself by infesting a robust tree. Despite its gruesome biological profile, the mistletoe is perhaps the only plant parasite that has been cherished by mankind. You can hardly find another leech elevated enough to be one of the popular symbols for Christmas.
While the mistletoe does not expediently kill its host, it is very toxic to a cat that (unfortunately) winds up climbing onto its infested tree. Among the most well-known irreversible symptoms of this plant parasite include seizure, collapse, and severe breathing difficulty. Like the lily flower’s effect, untreated exposure to mistletoe can be deadly.
Instead of the nondescript mistletoe, you can instead plant Atlas cedars and spruces to bring up the Christmas atmosphere at your outdoors. For decorations, you can neatly adorn each of the five candles on your Advent Wreath with a deep-red poinsettia bloom. You can also fashion Christmas trees, wreaths and leafy lanterns with Christmas ferns from your backyard. Olive leaves grown from your garden could also make a fine backdrop for your miniature nativity scene.
As one of the most memorable characters in the classical Greek mythology, the Oracle of Delphi is known for her uncanny prophecies conjured right after her ‘romanticized seizure’ – a scene that is vividly captured in the film 300 by Frank Miller. One of the theories explaining her hallucinations concerns the severe psychoactive effect of inhaling the aroma of smoldered oleander flower. Toxic it may be; it doesn’t stop anyone from admiring its delicate five-petal bloom.
What makes the oleander one of the worst plants to cultivate is that it is very unsafe for almost every mammal in the house. Ingesting parts of this flower could indiscriminately attack the central nervous system of both cats and their owners. Unfortunately for your feline companion, the dose is powerful enough to potentially kill them.
You can have cotoneaster, crimson bottlebrush, and rose as the three exemplary non-toxic flowering bushes to substitute for oleander. The flowering quince not only resembles the oleander’s refined bulbous petals, its fruits have more vitamin C than lemons. The marigold is also a very useful alternative considering that its bulbs are not only edible, it is also used as natural food coloring (yellow and orange).
Native to the southernmost parts of the Japanese archipelago, the sago palm proves to be one of the easiest plants to grow. It can grow in a pot and merely requires at least 4 hours of sunlight. Apart from being relatively low-maintenance, this plant is valued for its distinct starch used as a staple ingredient for various Indian and Southeast Asian delicacies. The sago palm is a model plant that brings out the ‘tropical taste’ in your home, appealing to all your five senses.
Unfortunately, the sago palm is highly toxic to animals. What makes this plant particularly dangerous for your cats is the fact that it looks just as appetizing to them as it does to most of us. Among the deadliest symptoms that your cats could experience include liver failure and excessive bleeding (coagulopathy).
For non-toxic ornaments that look (almost) exactly like the sago palm, you should consider cultivating chestnut dioon and karoo cycad. You can also opt for dwarf and needle palms for something large enough to support a makeshift canopy. But if you want a tropical-looking plant that rivals with sago palm for its edible produce, you should consider the South American native acai palm – yielding pulp berries that are almost as nutritious as the Middle Eastern dates.
Every year, there are 6 trillion cigarettes sold worldwide and 300 million premium cigars produced in Cuba. This massive international industry was one of the few things defining the legacy of Christopher Columbus – the explorer of the New World and the first known importer of tobacco. Although it is often being cultivated at an industrial scale, tobacco can also be conveniently grown in a residential garden.
The idea of producing your own DIY home-grown tobacco could be an appealing lifetime hobby. Unfortunately, it is a hobby you can promptly forget if you are fostering cats at home. Nicotine is extremely toxic to cats that it causes severe physical and psychological adverse effects – which, in worst cases, could entail death or paralysis.
You can pursue your passion for crafting your own herbal smoke without endangering the life of your fur baby – thanks to healthier alternatives like damiana, mullein, and thyme. Apart from turning its fruits into jam, you can also roll dried raspberry leaves into a cigarette paper. But if you’re looking for a non-toxic plant that is not only ‘lung therapeutic’ but also thrives easily (almost) anywhere in the United States, choose the hyssop.
Almost everyone is trapped in the persisting argument of whether the tomato is a fruit or vegetable. Fortunately, almost everyone can also agree that it is one of the most valuable crops in the world. The comprehensive list of American fast foods (from spaghetti to taco) would not have been possible if not for the main ingredient behind the sauce and ketchup. Growing tomatoes in your backyard can give you a culinary edge over your typical suburban neighbors.
The only real obstacles to your clever self-sufficiency initiative are your indoor cats. It is widely known that the plant itself is relatively noxious to your feline companion. Fortunately, the most severe symptoms (e.g. disorientation, vomiting, and diarrhea) are neither lethal nor irreversible.
There are cat-friendly crops you can cultivate in your home to greatly enrich your domestic cuisine. Carrots and lettuces give you an ample supply of healthy raw snacks. You can also cure your ‘sweet tooth’ cravings with watermelons and organic strawberry jams. Feel like taking your culinary expertise to a whole new level? Try baking your own ‘autumn harvest’ pumpkin pie.
Native to Persia (Iran) and Anatolia (Turkey) in the early medieval era, the tulip has become absurdly popular among the Dutch people in the early 16th Century. Dubbed as the “Tulip Mania,” this period paved the principles of ‘future investments’ – from stock derivatives to cryptocurrency exchange. In fact, the last recorded sale of 40 tulip bulbs was so exorbitant it could have purchased up to 1,000 tons of butter!
Nowadays, people would grow or keep tulips as a precious ornament – which could be terribly negligent if they own cats. If your feline companion accidentally takes a bite off the tulip bulb, it could undergo mild to moderate adverse effects. Typical symptoms include difficulty in breathing, diarrhea, vomiting, and increased heart rate.
Deep shades of scarlet might be typical for tulips, but it is not an aesthetic trait exclusive to them. Non-toxic substitutes may include crimson bottlebrush or poinsettias. As rivals to purple and orange tulips, you may cultivate Canterbury bells or Peruvian lilies respectively. Easily enough, the rose serves as the best alternative that imitates every varying tulip color and (arguably) surpasses them in terms of symmetrical exquisiteness.
Also known as Texas umbrella, Chinaberry tree or Persian lilac; this plant is very commonplace within the semi-arid areas of the second largest US state. Although primarily grown for landscaping or its ample timber, it also yields non-edible fruits that are used for prayer beads or insect repellants. According to botanical experts, the white cedar is a very invasive tree – which may seem incredible considering how serene it stands from (almost) every photographic angle.
Until you figure out a way to effectively concoct your own DIY insect repellant, planting white cedars is a terrible idea for any cat owner. This tree can render your cat spasmodic and lethargic – granted that it actually survived its extremely deadly toxicity.
As far as good lumber is concerned, the basswood can put the white cedar in shame. For excellent shade, you can either choose the colossal elm or the sparsely foliaged sycamore. You can brew pesticides from a cat-friendly mesquite tree. Lastly, the precious olive tree can provide you with food and material resources (oil) that can make the white cedar look impoverished by comparison.