It’s been a long nine months, and now you’re finally holding your newborn in your arms. Well-meaning family members have started sending flowers and lush houseplants in congratulations for your tiny bundle of joy. Little do they realize that the plants they’re sending may endanger your child’s life if proper safety precautions aren’t taken.

Dieffenbachia

Dieffenbachia is commonly used in florist’s gift baskets and contains a number of toxins.

Photo Credit: Sheri Ann Richerson

Philodendron

Be sure to keep all parts of your philodendron out of the reach of children.

Photo Credit: Sheri Ann Richerson

Kong Coleus

Coleus is a colorful, nontoxic plant that brightens up any room with its multicolored leaves and unusual flower spikes.

Photo Credit: Sheri Ann Richerson

Two of the plants florists commonly use in gift baskets are dieffenbachia and philodendron – and with good reason: They’re easy to care for and beautiful. (That’s why you can find them just about anywhere plants are sold.) But they can also be dangerous if your child eats any part of them!

So what can parents do to protect their babies and still enjoy their beautiful houseplants?

The first step is to identify each plant in your home – that means knowing the full botanical (or Latin) name. Many houseplants come with tags that include their Latin name, which makes the identification job easy. But if there’s no tag in sight, there are a couple of things you can do to figure out what you’ve got growing on: One option is to take the entire plant, a part of it or a good-quality photo to your local nursery, Cooperative Extension agent or florist to find out the botanical name. You can also look online or in a houseplant reference book. And when you’re identifying your plants, try to learn a little more about them – especially if they’re toxic.

Next, label each plant in your home so you can identify them easily. (Labeling can be as simple as attaching a piece of masking tape with the plant’s name on it to the pot.) Lastly, record each plant’s name in a notebook, along with an identifying photo if possible, as well as its location in the house or pot color so you can quickly identify the plant in an emergency. Don’t forget to add any information you learn about each plant, too, like whether it’s poisonous.

Obviously it’s always a good idea to keep any plant out of your baby’s reach, whether the plant’s toxic or not. It’s no secret that babies love to grab at anything, so make sure trailing stems and vines don’t hang out of a pot, otherwise the entire thing could come crashing down on your child. And remember: Even a small piece of leaf can cause a baby to choke or suffocate!

If for some reason keeping your plants out of your child’s reach is next to impossible, it’s best to keep only nontoxic plants in your home. Here are a few beautiful houseplants you might consider keeping around: (Not only are these plants beautiful, laboratory tests prove they’re harmless if touched or ingested.)

  • Bird’s-nest fern (Asplenium nidus) – a great choice for low-light areas.
  • Christmas, Thanksgiving or holiday cactus (Schlumbergera) – prefers full sun in fall and winter and some shade in spring and summer.
  • Coleus (Solenostemon) – prefers bright, indirect light.
  • Fig tree (Ficus benjamina) – does well in bright, indirect light.
  • Jade plant or dwarf rubber plant (Crassula ovata) – does well in direct sunlight.
  • Polka-dot plant (Hypoestes phyllostachya) – great in bright light but not full sun.
  • Ponytail palm (Beaucarnea recurvata) – does best in a full-sun spot.
  • Sensitive plant (Mimosa pudica) – likes part shade but can take sun.

Of course, no matter how careful you are with your houseplants, always be prepared for emergencies. If your wee one happens to ingest any part of any houseplant, remain calm and carefully examine your child to look for immediate adverse reactions. Then call your local poison control center. Let them know which plant your child ate (use your notebook as a reference), as well as what parts and how much. Follow whatever instructions you’re given. If you’re told to take your child to the hospital, take along the plant pieces and your notebook – you’ll need the name of the plant so emergency room staff will know exactly how to treat your child.

Despite the dangers of some houseplants, it really is possible to have small children and pretty plants living in the same home – the key is to know your plants and keep them out of your child’s reach. With a few simple safety precautions and the right information, you and your baby can enjoy the refreshing life that plants breathe into your home.