The last time I grew African violets, a housemate’s cat visited my plant regularly and, when I wasn’t looking, ate every single flower. On the bright side, African violets are not poisonous to cats, and this particular cat was not interested in digging up my plants.
If you want both cats and houseplants to thrive, be sure to do some research before bringing a plant into your cat’s territory, because some cats like to bite plants, or even eat leaves or petals.
Cat-safe nontoxic plants:
• Gesneriads such as African violet, gloxinia, cape primrose and goldfish plant
• Bromeliads and air plants
• Maranta family plants such as prayer plant and calathea
• True palms such as ponytail and parlor palms
• Boston fern, grape ivy, Swedish ivy, purple passion vine, wax flower, hibiscus, ti plant, peperomia and Christmas cactus
If you are concerned about a particular plant, the ASPCA (aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control) has lists of nontoxic and toxic plants online that, at first glance, may seem daunting. Click each plant name to find out the degree of toxicity. Most plants on the “toxic” list can cause vomiting or diarrhea if your cat eats more than a leaf or two (including catmint); other plants, like dumb cane, can cause more severe reactions from simply biting a leaf; and a few, like Easter lilies, can be deadly. The Pet Poison Helpline (petpoisonhelpline.com) has a much shorter list.
A more practical and well-annotated list is Houseplant Toxicity Week, which comprises nine pages on the Plants Are the Strangest People blog (plantsarethestrangestpeople.blogspot.com). Houseplant Toxicity Week organizes plants by level of toxicity, from “crazy super dangerous” to “safe.” An index page summarizes all of the information. The primary sources for these blog pages are two books: “Handbook of Poisonous and Injurious Plants” (2007) and “Toxicity of Houseplants” (1990). The information at Houseplant Toxicity Week is not cat-centric – it includes notes on what’s toxic to other animals as well.
Lilies are specifically and dangerously toxic to cats. Even the pollen in a water dish can cause toxic reactions in cats. If you have a cat, don’t bring lilies into your house. If you know someone who has a cat, don’t bring them lilies. If you have outdoor cats, you probably shouldn’t even be growing daylilies.
Aside from lilies, philodendrons are especially toxic to cats. To a lesser degree, pink polka-dot plant and snake plant are more dangerous for cats than for other animals.
Other toxic-if-ingested plants:
• “Crazy super dangerous” plants: Oleander, elephant ear, pencil cactus, angel’s trumpet, philodendron, plumeria and rhododendron
• Dangerous plants: Sago palm, night-blooming jasmine, dumb cane, euphorbias, ivy, amaryllis, hydrangea, nandina, narcissus bulbs and calla lily
• Potentially dangerous plants: Agapanthus, aglaonema, aloe, anthurium, asparagus fern, caladium, fishtail palm, cyclamen rhizomes, dracaena, rubber plant, hyacinth bulbs, sensitive plant, screw pine, schefflera, tulip bulbs and peace lily
Even if your cut flowers are cat-safe, it may be a good idea to get them from a source that doesn’t use pesticides.