From orchids to palm trees, plant pros share their favorite options for homes with dogs or cats

(Jesse Lynn for The Washington Post)

Even with a curious dog or cat in your home, it is still possible to keep pets and houseplants simultaneously. It just takes a little extra research.

Some types of plants should be avoided at all costs in a home with animals.

Tiger lilies, for example, “contain calcium oxalate crystals that look like needles under a microscope,” and can lead to vomiting, mouth pain and drooling in both dogs and cats, says Tina Wismer, senior director of the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center.

True lilies (which include tiger lilies) are especially dangerous to cats. “It only takes a bite of a leaf or brushing pollen from a hair coat to cause kidney failure,” she says.

However, there is still a world of safe houseplant options for the conscientious pet owner. We asked plant experts to recommend their favorites.

Succulents are relatively easy to care for, and many species are harmless to dogs and cats. Echeverias, a wide, low, donkey-tailed succulent that is ideal for hanging planters, are both non-toxic options that thrive in high light. Haworthias, which come in a range of shapes and sizes, are another great choice. They do best in sunny conditions but can also thrive in partial shade.

Tom Knight, founder of, recommends Christmas cactus for its pink flowers. Additionally, unlike many other cacti, they do not have sharp spines. Knight advises pet parents to always consider, “Does the plant have physical characteristics such as thorns that could hurt my pet?”

In general, most ferns — which prefer moisture and plenty of water — are probably well-suited to a pet-friendly home. Mike Davison, general manager of Platt Hill Nursery in Bloomingdale, Illinois, recommends holly fern, which tolerates lower humidity better than other varieties, and silver lace or silver table fern, which has thick silver stripes along its leaves. If you have a smaller space, Boston ferns will stay more compact, he says.

One type of fern that should be off-limits in homes with animals: Asparagus fern, also known as emerald fern or lace fern, whose berries contain a toxic steroid that can cause digestive problems in dogs and cats.

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Like ferns, most palms are a good bet. (An exception, however, is the sago palm, which can be deadly to dogs and cats.) One of Davison’s favorite pet-safe plants is the bamboo palm, a low-maintenance leafy plant that tolerates low light and can grow up to 1,000 meters away. Six feet indoors. Likewise, the reception palm and lady palm do well in low-light locations, while the phoenix palm thrives in medium light.

Because they are tropical plants, many palms are sensitive to dry air and prefer moist soil. The exception is the areca, or butterfly palm, which Christopher Griffin, known on Instagram as @plantkween, recommends for its “long, gorgeous feather-shaped fronds.”

This palm prefers bright natural light and “thrives in humid environments, but I have found that my palm is adaptable and does well with well-drained soil (and) a standard humidifier,” Griffin says via email. “It prefers its soil to be dry between waterings.”

While flowering plants in general are more likely to be toxic, there are plenty of pet-safe options that display beautiful blooms. Gerbera daisy, star jasmine, and Madagascar jasmine are non-toxic to cats and dogs, as are most orchids—including the popular tiger orchid, rose orchid, and tail orchid. For beginners in orchid growing, orchids can be a great place to start, as they are easy to find and hard to kill, Davison says.

Goldfish plants are another pet-safe way to brighten up a space. In spring and summer, it features dozens of orange and yellow flowers that look like tiny goldfish suspended in the air. Unlike other perennials that need to be exposed to direct sunlight throughout most of the day, goldfish plants can do well with any bright light source and can survive with indoor lights alone during the dark months.

Davison also suggests zebra plants, or aphelandra — which grow bright yellow flowers and have white stripes on their leaves — and hoya, which feature clusters of small, porcelain-like flowers. (However, in both plants, flowers can be rare or short-lived.)

Davison prefers brightly colored guzmanias — a type of bromeliad — for their wide availability, ease of care, and tolerance for low light.

“It’s by far my favorite bromeliad,” he says.

The peperomia family of plants, also called radiator plants, includes a wide range of leaf shapes, colors and care needs. Some grow, others grow upright, and all are relatively low maintenance and safe for animals.

“They’re really tough plants: easy to grow and hard to kill, unless you overwater them,” says Davison.

Spider plants are another resilient, non-toxic option. They prefer well-drained soil. Bright, indirect light; And they don’t mind if they become a little root bound, “so it’s recommended to replant them only when they’ve clearly outgrown their pot,” says Griffin.

Griffin also recommends rattlesnake plants, whose long, wavy leaves feature dark green dots and deep purple undersides. They like warmth, humidity, and bright, indirect light. Peacock plants and nervous plants, two of Davison’s favorite plants, add similar color to the collection of pet-safe plants. The leaves of succulents are characterized by a tangled network of pink, white or red stripes. Peacock plants boast dark purple and green details, although their delicate moisture needs can make them difficult to maintain.

Even non-toxic plants, especially when consumed in large quantities, can make your pet sick because they are difficult to digest.

“Eating any plant material can cause stomach upset, including vomiting and diarrhea,” Wismer says.

So, if you know that your pet loves to eat leaves, it is best to keep all houseplants out of reach. Placing them on shelves, inside terrariums, or in hanging planters are all possible solutions.

If you’re unsure about the safety of a particular plant, Knight recommends visiting your local nursery or garden store to speak with an expert in person. “The owners are usually very knowledgeable and happy to help,” he says.

Pet owners can also consult the ASPCA’s database of toxic and non-toxic plants for additional information.

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