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Toxic Office Plants

By: Kevin Watson MSc - Updated: 19 Jul 2012 | comments*Discuss
Plants Dermatitis Office Toxins

Plants can enliven an office, improve air quality and trap pollutants. But unfortunately, many office plants also carry toxins. These toxins may not be a threat to everyone. Nor do their effects necessarily pose serious risks to health.

Nonetheless, for safety’s sake it’s worth knowing how poisonous certain plants can be. The following is therefore a selection of those that may cause harm.


Most people associate aloe plants with good health. Aloe vera, the gel from a specific kind of aloe, is available in chemists. Many people use it to cure skin problems.

Those with Sensitive Skin, however, can suffer from dermatitis if they touch the juice of an aloe plant. Scientists also believe that one of the compounds in the juice, aloin, can give rise to serious health problems if ingested. As a result, companies that process aloe juice now remove all traces of aloin.

This doesn’t mean that the aloe plant is unsuitable for an office. But it’s wise not to break off the leaves and expose the juice.


Generally speaking, cyclamens shouldn’t cause any toxicity problems in an office or elsewhere. If someone re-pots a cyclamen, however, he or she may handle the bulb and stems, both of which can have a powerful purgative effect. It’s unlikely that an adult will ingest part of a cyclamen bulb or stem. To be on the safe side, though, anyone re-potting a cyclamen plant should thoroughly wash his or hands afterwards.

English Ivy

Ivy can cause dermatitis, although this is relatively rare. But when dermatitis does occur it can be nasty. Itchy, weeping blisters appear on the skin. Successful treatment of these can take a long while. Ivy leaves are also dangerous if eaten. Symptoms include vomiting, convulsions and paralysis.


As with some other office plants, hydrangeas may cause contact dermatitis. Furthermore, people who have eaten hydrangea flower buds have suffered vomiting, diarrhoea and breathing problems. Occasionally, those who’ve ingested a hydrangea bud fall into a coma.

Jerusalem Cherry

Jerusalem cherries are popular in offices thanks to their red berries. The berries are not for consumption, however. They can cause vomiting and stomach pains.


Philodendrons can improve the air quality in an office. People with sensitive skin, though, may develop itchiness and inflammation after touching the plants. Eating a philodendron leaf can lead to the throat, mouth, tongue and lips swelling. A burning sensation accompanies this.


Poinsettias may be brought into offices at Christmas time. Their red flowers and dark green leaves make impressive festive displays. The plants can exude a milky sap, though. Contact with this may cause dermatitis. Anyone who ingests the sap is likely to experience nausea.

Swiss Cheese Plant

Swiss cheese plants need high temperatures and humidity to produce their fruit. An office environment rarely provides the right conditions. If fruit does appear, however, no one should eat it. The oxalic acid in the fruit may cause swollen, watery and itchy patches on skin. The leaves of the Swiss cheese plant are also toxic. Eating or chewing a leaf leads to almost instant blistering of the mouth and loss of voice.

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