The other day an email arrived in my in-box. A terrifying warning: “ATTENTION KILLER HOUSE PLANT!” This plant can kill a child in less than a minute and an adult in 15 minutes. The email goes on to advise us to up root and remove them from our gardens, offices and homes. I have this plant in my home, garden and office, it is easy to grow and oxygenates my office and needs minimal attention.
I remember my Father giving me a few pots containing this particular plant known as a Dieffenbachia, he warned me that it was toxic, I put this plant in my office and recall interrupting a work colleague talking to me, at the same time, stroking the leaf of the plant, to stop and immediately go wash her hands. I don’t know who was more horrified, her, for being in imminent danger of being blinded or myself for seeing someone fiddling with a plant, as I was taught from an early age not to touch plants unnecessarily.
I have a grandchild arriving in my home soon, and at the moment this poisonous plant is in my home and garden. It made me realize that while I have been thinking of child proofing the pool and the electrical outlets and cupboard doors I have not give all my plants a thought. Have I become complacent or would my instincts and that of my daughter who lives with me, kick in and automatically protect our new arrival?
What other poisonous house plants do I have sitting insidiously on the patio? That made me think, there are so many people who may not have been brought up surrounded by potted plants as I have, with constant warnings of their dangers. They have purchased house plants from nurseries and shops with no real understanding of the dangers they may present. I have seen these Dieffenbachia pot plants in shops and generally the labels on the pot give the Latin name and how and where the plant grows best and how much water and feeding they need.
There are warnings on so many everyday foods and items that we use in our homes but I don’t recall seeing warnings on pot plants, or at plant nurseries. I know that I will not throw out my office plant as I have moved it away from idle hands and I don’t have children in my office environment, but I will put a large warning sticker on the pot, with the possible side effects and antidote should there be an accidental contamination.
I will remove all poisonous plants from my home environment and replace with non toxic ones. I strongly feel that especially in South Africa there is not enough notice and warnings for the consumer to be made aware of the dangers of potted plants and their toxicity. Most sales staff encountered at nurseries, in my opinion, are not that clued up on horticulture and rely on the labeling. Not everyone has access to the internet to look up the varieties of house plants that are safe, and if you are shopping for house plants would you want to drive back and forth checking up on the safety of a plant you fancy?
House plants have so much to offer, they brighten your home and freshen the air, uplift your spirits and taking care of a plant can be quite therapeutic. Do we know if most house plants safe? Hopefully the dangers of owning and displaying these plants can be made safer with stricter safety controls on labels and people will not feel threaten by the lack of information on house plants. In the mean time those of us who do have house plants check out how safe they are.