How to Decorate Your Place With Plants Without Killing Your Cat


Editor’s Note: Somer Sherwood is a contributor to Catster’s sister SAY Media site, This article first ran on xoJane, but we’re rerunning it (with permission!) so you can comment on it. Please note that the opinions expressed below are just the author’s and not necessarily Catster’s.

While I might often doubt my parenting skills when it comes to my human child, I like to think I’m a pretty good cat mom to Khaleesi (aka the Cutest Fluff In the West, Kittenface, Fur Pants, or Stinky). When we first got her, the poor thing was riddled with fleas, malnourished, and kind of ratty-looking.

And look at her now. All fluffy and soft and pretty. I love her to pieces, so I definitely do not want to poison her with houseplants.

But I do love houseplants. Nothing makes a home look as swank and like a real adult lives there as some fancy green things. Plus, plants clean the air, a welcome benefit for a germaphobe like me when it’s the middle of the winter and it’s too cold to open the windows.

Unfortch, many common houseplants are toxic to pets. Like the ubiquitous ficus (which, snooze anyway, but they are super easy to care for, and that’s why everyone has one, right?).

Other common, easy-to-not-kill houseplants that can make your cats or dogs sick include mother-in-law’s tongue (or snake plant), dracaena, and aloe. In fact, these are the plants I had successfully kept alive for more than a month, pre-cat, so when I decided to add some foliage to my living room, I was disappointed to find that my old standbys could also potentially kill my cat.

So, using my magickal Internet research skills, I Googled "plants toxic to cats" so that I could have a list of stuff not to buy when I went plant shopping. The ASPCA has, by far, the most comprehensive list out there. It’s a really long list, but it is worth a read if you’re considering adding some living plants to your decor and you also have a live creature whose poop you scoop.

In the end, I decided on a majesty palm, because it is so, so dramatic. And I like a little drama in my decorating. The majesty palm is the gilded mirror or 1970s swag lamp of the plant world: bold, a little tacky, maybe not everyone loves it, but it just looks COOL. Plus, your cat can hide in it and pretend she’s in the jungle, stalking Vacation Mouse, who lies, unsuspecting, on the wood floor in front of the plant.

I also picked up a maidenhair fern, which is not like a regular fern — it has lacy and delicate-looking fan-shaped leaves, and it looks like something you’d mist with an old-timey brass mister in a Victorian-era conservatory, whilst thinking of how much you hate wearing a corset.

My cat can chew on it as much as she wants, and it’s as benign as cat grass in her digestive system. But it looks so much better than one of those sad pet-grass containers you can buy at the pet store, right?

Fair warning about this fern: It is a picky thing, in terms of moisture and light. Just when I thought I was treating it right, it started dying on me, fast. However, I aggressively cut back all the dried-up little leaves, and it came right back to life within a few days. So I named it Lazarus, because I’m the kind of person who names her houseplants.

The other awesome thing about maidenhair ferns is that the little black spots on some of those delicate leave are reproductive spores, and I hear you can take the leaf off, dry it in a plastic bag until the spore falls off, then plant the spore and grow a whole new fern. How cool is that?

Other non-toxic greenery I’m considering, either once I successfully keep these two alive or kill them and need replacement plants (whichever):

  • Bamboo palm and other palms that are indicated as nontoxic to pets.
  • Succulents like burro’s tail (the easiest to keep alive of all plants are succulents, in my experience, because they can tolerate a lot of neglect.)
  • African violets, because they remind me of my grandma, though I have not had good luck keeping them alive in the past. Willing to kill one again, if I must.
  • Zebra plants, which will flower under the right conditions, and have glossy, stripy leaves. The statement necklace of the plant world, if you will.
  • A staghorn fern, because they are the most metal of all houseplants.

Are you a plant killer like I am, and are you ruthless in your killing? Do you have any non-toxic plant recommendations? And what the heck am I doing wrong with African violets? Please let me know in the comments!

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