Many people love keeping ZZ plants in their homes because of their low-maintenance, low-light, drought-tolerant, and air-purifying qualities. However, the ZZ plant belongs to the Araceae family, notorious for having many poisonous plants.
Internet rumors have also amplified the dangers, as many believe that a ZZ plant is not only poisonous, but can also cause cancer.
Is there any merit to these claims? Here’s the short answer:
The ZZ plant is poisonous but not the kind that would instantly kill you or your pets. All parts of this plant contain a chemical compound (calcium oxalate) that can irritate sensitive skin, eyes, and mucous membranes. If swallowed by pets or humans, the plant can irritate the mouth; and cause vomiting and diarrhea. But there is no evidence indicating that the plant causes cancer.
This answer is short, but it’s not exhaustive. For example, if your heart is set on adding a ZZ plant to your house, but you don’t know how to handle it properly, you need more information.
Therefore, this article answers all the questions about the poisonous nature of a ZZ plant, such as:
- What makes it poisonous?
- How can it affect humans and pets?
- How can you treat its poisonous effects?
- How can you handle and maintain it safely?
What makes ZZ Plant Poisonous?
The ZZ plant owes its toxicity to calcium oxalate. It is a chemical compound that consists of crystals with sharp edges invisible to the naked eye. Unfortunately for us, the ZZ plant contains this compound in all its parts, such as leaves, stems, roots, sap, seeds, etc.
The crystalline nature of this compound creates a stabbing sensation (like stepping on broken glass) at a microscopic level, affecting the skin and tissues of the mouth, gums, throat, stomach, etc.
Let us now look at the symptoms of the ZZ plant poisoning.
Symptoms of ZZ Plant Poisoning
When sensitive skin is exposed to the ZZ plant, calcium oxalate causes a painful burning sensation and irritation. This chemical may also affect your mucous membranes if you touch your eyes or nose.
Similarly, eating any part of the plant can cause symptoms such as:
- Sharp pain in mouth and/or throat
- Burning sensation in mouth and/or throat
- Swelling of mouth and/or throat
The symptoms appear instantaneously, which may cause children or adults to spit out the plant and prevent them from swallowing it.
However, if ingested, this plant can cause stomach aches, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, and cramps as the body tries to get rid of calcium oxalate.
The severity of these symptoms depends on how much of the plant someone consumed. Generally speaking, they disappear after a few hours on their own.
Calcium oxalate affects animals the same way it does humans. Their skin and mucous membranes can get irritated if they brush their nose against the leaves of ZZ plants. Similarly, ingesting the leaves will quickly develop symptoms such as mouth irritation, drooling, swelling, diarrhea, and vomiting.
Treatment for ZZ Plant Poisoning
Symptoms of ZZ plant poisoning disappear after a few hours. Since the reaction is quick and painful, it is also highly unlikely for a person or an animal to consume copious amounts of its leaves.
However, here are a few ways to mitigate the symptoms if poisoning occurs.
If a child eats a part of a ZZ plant, the first thing to do is to make them spit it out. Help them rinse their mouth thoroughly and clean any particles with a clean cloth.
The child will instantly start feeling discomfort, pain, irritation, and burning in their mouth. You can soothe it with the help of cool liquids, milk, or ice cream.
Given how quickly symptoms can appear, it is rare for humans to ingest ZZ plants. But if it happens, the symptoms will range from cramps and stomach aches to vomiting and diarrhea (depending on the amount ingested).
Keep children well hydrated as the symptoms gradually disappear after a few hours. If the symptoms persist, take them to the nearest hospital.
If you think your beloved pet has eaten a part of a ZZ plant (usually leaves), check their mouth and remove any plant particles you see.
By this time, your pet will develop painful symptoms. Try giving them cold treats or plain water to make them feel better. You’ll also have to watch them closely because it’s hard to know how much they have eaten.
If they have ingested the plant, they will vomit and experience diarrhea. In a few hours, the symptoms will most likely subside. But vomiting and diarrhea can cause dehydration, so give them plenty of fluids.
If your pet vomits more than once and the diarrhea continues after a few hours(8+ hours), it’s time to take them to the vet. Severe poisoning may lead to such problems, resulting in excessive dehydration, low blood sugar, and aversion to food.
Your vet will provide supportive care, like replenishing the fluids with IV treatment. Your vet will also rule out other causes or treat them if they exist.
Are All Types of ZZ Plants Toxic?
There are different varieties of ZZ plants, such as:
- Variegated ZZ Plant
- ZZ Jungle Warrior
- Dwarf ZZ Plant
- ZZ Raven
- And more.
These cultivars may differ in appearance but are still from the same species. The level of toxicity may vary between each cultivar, but they all contain calcium oxalate.
Therefore, if a plant has “ZZ” in its name, it will exhibit the same poisonous nature as the generic ZZ plant.
Is ZZ Plant Deadly?
For a ZZ plant to be lethal, you’ll have to ingest a lot of it. As we have discussed, even a small amount of ZZ plant will quickly develop symptoms such as burning mouth or swelling, preventing further consumption.
Therefore, it is virtually impossible for a person or a pet to consume such a large amount of ZZ plant that it becomes deadly.
ZZ Plant and Cancer
Rumors about ZZ plants causing cancer started back in 2010, back when everything on Facebook was taken at face value.
It quickly became a widespread myth that made many anxious about keeping a ZZ plant. These fake Facebook posts went so far as to claim that the cancer-causing nature of this plant has been confirmed by WHO (World Health Organization).
However, no scientific evidence or research confirms that ZZ plants have carcinogenic properties. In short, their poisonous nature has been simply blown out of proportion, giving them a bad rep.
Living With a ZZ Plant Safely
Living with a ZZ plant doesn’t have to be a scary experience. Following a few easy guidelines, you can beautify your home with this low-maintenance plant.
Watering, Repotting, Cutting, and General Handling
The ZZ plant requires watering after 2-3 weeks when the soil completely dries. If you have sensitive skin, wear gloves before watering for protection if you touch it accidentally. Even if you don’t have sensitive skin, don’t touch your mouth, eyes, or nose when handling it.
The same goes for moving, repotting, or trimming the plant.
Plant sap sticks to the surfaces and can be harmful. If you’re using non-disposable gardening gloves, wash them after every use, along with any tools you may use for cutting or repotting.
People with non-sensitive skin don’t usually show symptoms when touching the ZZ plant for short periods.
If you have children or pets, keeping your ZZ plant at a safe distance is important. You can:
- Place your plants on high shelves,
- Hang them from ceilings, or
- Place them in rooms your children or pets have no access to.
If you have overly curious cats, you can deter them by placing orange peels or sprinkling cayenne pepper at the plant’s base. The smell of these deterrents will be enough to keep nosy pets at bay.
Lastly, even if after taking all the measures mentioned above, your children or pets can still get to the plant, touch it, or nibble on it, it is better to choose another houseplant.
The ZZ plant is immensely popular because of its beautiful dark green leaves and low-maintenance qualities. Add to the mix its air-purifying trait, and you have on your hands THE perfect houseplant.
But sadly, nothing in this world is perfect.
A ZZ plant can be irritating to people with sensitive skin. It can also irritate the skin of children and pets and induce vomiting and diarrhea if ingested. But “poisonous” is a strong word, as its toxicity is rarely lethal.
Luckily, keeping the plant safely in your home is not a giant feat.
Just ensure it is out of reach of children and pets, and wear gloves if you have sensitive skin. Avoid touching your mouth, nose, and eyes when handling the plant. If poisoning does occur, don’t panic, as the symptoms last only a few hours.
Lastly, if you’re sure there is no way to keep this plant out of reach of children or pets, it is better to pick a different houseplant.
1.What are the benefits of a ZZ plant?
A ZZ plant can absorb CO2 from the air and help clean airborne toxins such as xylene, toluene, and benzene from the atmosphere. Additionally, it is one of the easiest plant to look after due to its drought-tolerant and low-light qualities.
2.Can I touch my ZZ plant without gloves?
It is okay to touch a ZZ plant for limited periods without wearing gloves, given that you’re careful not to touch your eyes, mouth, or nose during this time. But if you have sensitive skin, you can experience irritation. In such cases, you should always wear gloves before touching it.
3.Does the ZZ plant cause allergies?
Touching a ZZ plant can cause allergy-like symptoms, such as irritation if you have sensitive skin. Touching your mouth, nose, or eyes after handling a ZZ plant can also lead to symptoms such as burning eyes or swelling in the mouth.
4.What part of the ZZ plant is toxic?
The ZZ plant contains calcium oxalate, a painful chemical compound, in all its parts, including leaves, roots, stems, rhizoids, and sap. In short, a ZZ plant is poisonous in its entirety.
5.Can I have a ZZ plant with pets?
The ZZ plant can harm pets if they brush up against or eat it. All its parts contain calcium oxalate, including leaves, stems, roots, sap, and rhizoids. This chemical compound can cause skin irritation, irritation of mucous membranes, vomiting, and diarrhea in animals. If you have pets, the best way to keep a ZZ plant is to keep it out of their reach, such as on a shelf or in a hanging planter.