Susan Randstrom Bruck is a former garden columnist and graphic designer for the Chicago Sun-Times. With a B.F.A. in design and a certificate as a master gardener, she continues to enjoy the best of both worlds.

This article applies to:



Saving Kitty (and Your Sanity)
by Susan Randstrom Bruck       #Advice   #Health and Safety   #Poisonous Plants

With delicate noses in the air, some persnickety cats wouldn’t even think about nibbling on a leaf, while other “grazing” felines make it impossible to allow both plant and puss into the same room. Why can’t a cat-loving scientist discover a test that would identify the PN (plant nibbler) gene in kittens? Early detection might let you  know what you’re up against. Since there is still no test available, I continue to work on my two-pronged attack: The Deterrent and the Disguise.

First, deter the cat’s desire to nip at favorite houseplants by providing a container of homegrown, edible “greens.” Next, follow up with tactics that will make your houseplants less attractive – even to the most persistent kitty. Finally, to avoid vet bills or worse, choose indoor plants that are not toxic to your animals. If you want to stay a cat-loving gardener, try a few of these options below.

Create a Deterrent

  1. Plant wheat, rye or alfalfa seeds in a cat-friendly container. (Keep the young seedlings out of the cat’s reach so the sprouts can mature.) Now cats can chew and nibble their own fresh grass when they get a taste for foliage.
  2. Homegrown herbs such as parsley or thyme also give cats something safe to eat. Simply snip off a stem or two of these fragrant herbs and let the cat smell and chew without reprimand. The more you snip, the more herbs you’ll be able to share between cat and cook.
  3. Organic catnip is another tempting natural treat that can be a decoy for your favorite houseplants. Grow fresh or buy dried catnip to stuff into cat toys or old socks. Catnip is also safe for cats to eat, snuggle with and bat around. You might see some frenetic cat behavior at first, but they will mellow out and find a relaxing spot to chill. Unfortunately, catnip doesn’t have an effect on all cats.
  4. Spritzing your furry offender with water from a spray bottle can also be an effective deterrent if used consistently. They find this method very humiliating.

Choose a Disguise

  1. Yuck! Rub hot pepper sauce or Bitter Apple (available at pet stores) on plants (or other surfaces). The bitter taste discourages cats from putting the plant in their mouths.
  2. Most importantly, make your favorite plants inaccessible to kitty. Place your favorite or dangerous plants in hanging containers or incorporate them into inaccessible wall units. Make it impossible for the most acrobatic cats to reach these tempting “toys.” Don’t put off the inevitable by placing them on tables where a cat can easily hop from chair to plant. Look for interesting hanging container options. No need to rely on macramé projects from the ‘60s.
  3. Do not set a booby trap for your cat. (Keep in mind, I was very frustrated.) One of my cats, Nicolai, loved to use a container of a large weeping fig as his own tropical island and litter box. I poked many shish kebab sticks into the potting soil. My intention was to warn him – not impale him. This experiment proved to be a failure on many levels. The cat continued to jump into the pot and I ended up feeling really horrible and stupid.
  4. Here’s a better idea. If your cats are digging in your pots, buy a few sheets of plastic needlepoint canvas. Trace the size of the top of the pot, cut a slit in it and then cut a hole in the center of the canvas for the plant. Rest it on top of the soil. Now, your cat will find it difficult to dig.

The healthiest way to coexist with plants and cats is to choose indoor plants that are not toxic to them. If the cat does nip or chew it, at least, the results won’t be dire. However, there might be pesticide residue on newly purchased plants, which is not good for them, either. Wash leaves gently with tepid water to remove pesticides or fertilizer. If you refer to the partial list of safe, indoor plants below and keep away from the poisonous ones, everyone will be much happier. Nirvana – where feline, plants and humans coexist – can be yours!

Common Houseplants that Can Coexist With Cats 

Phalaenopsis orchid1

These plants aren’t fatal to your cat but might cause stomach or mouth irritation. However, it is always better to offer him/her oat or wheat grass for munching. Homegrown catnip from your garden is a real treat, too.

Indoor Blooming Houseplants

Persian Violet (Exacum affine)
Gloxinia (Gloxinia speciosa)
Jasmine (Jasminum cvs.)
Miniature roses (Rosa cvs.) 
African violet (Saintpaulia ionantha)

Foliage Only

Zebra plant (Aphelandra squarrosa)
Begonia (Begonia spp.) 
Cacti (real cacti, not just any succulent. Cacti usually can  protect themselves!) 
Peacock plant (Calathea mokoyana)
Spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum)
Ice plant (Delosperma cooperi)
Blue echeveria (Echeveria imbricata)
Ferns (Boston, button, carrot, parsley, Christmas dagger, rabbit’s foot, king and queen, sword)
Silver nerve plant (Fittonia cvs.)
Hoya (Hoya cvs.)
Pink polka-dot plant (Hypoestes phyllostachya)
Living stones (Lithops spp.)
Prayer plant (Maranta leuconeura)
Banana tree (Musa spp.)
Palms: kentia, paradise, lady, parlor Radiator plant (Peperomia cvs.)
Swedish ivy (Plectranthus verticillatus)
Burro’s tail (Sedum morganianum)
Hens-and-chicks (Sempervivum tectorum)
Baby’s tears (Soleirolia soleirollii)
Coleus (Plectranthus scutellarioides)

For a more detailed list, visit While some plants are just mildly toxic, others like the sago palm, kill many pets every year. The  recommendation is to learn what plants you have and whether or not they are poisonous. The ASPCA Poison Control Center, which can be located through the main ASPCA website is an excellent reference for both toxic and non-toxic plants.

Poisonous Plants 

Primrose (Primula eliator)2

These plants range from causing only irritation to being fatal to your cat – depending on the amount that is consumed. If you need a professional opinion or emergency help, call your vet or the ASPCA 24-hour emergency hotline at 1-888-426-4435. (fee may apply) For more details, visit

Cyclamen (Cyclamen persicum)3 

Blooming Houseplants

Chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum cvs.)
Cyclamen (Cyclamen persicum)*
Crown of thorns (Euphorbia milii)
Kalanchoe (Kalanchoe cvs.)*
Star of Bethlehem (Ornithogalum spp.)
Mock orange (Philadelphus cvs.)
Primrose (Primula cvs.)
Peace lily (Spathiphyllum cvs.)*

Foliage Houseplants

Asparagus fern (Asparagus densiflorus  cv. sprengeri)
Elephant ear (Colocasia cvs.)
Croton (Croton cvs.)
Sago palm (Cycas revoluta)*
Lucky bamboo (Dracaena braunii)
Corn plant (Dracaena fragrans)
Dragon tree (Dracaena fragrans)
Pothos (Epipremnum)*
Weeping Fig (Ficus benjamina)
Indian rubber plant (Ficus elastica)
Fiddle-leaf fig (Fius lyrata) Ivy (Hedera cvs.)*
Panda plant (Kalanchoe tomentosa)
Heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica)
Tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum)
Philodendron (Philodendron cvs.)
Mother-in-law’s tongue or snake plant (Sansevieria cvs.)
Umbrella plant (Schefflera cvs.)*
String of pearls (Senecio rowleyanus)

Common Indoor Holiday Plants

Chrysanthemum cvs.*
Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus cvs.)
Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) – irritation but not fatal
Amaryllis (Hippeastrum cvs.)*
Hydrangea (Hydrangea cvs.)
Holly (Ilex opaca)*
Easter lily (Lilium longiflorum)*
Azalea (Rhodendron cvs.)*
Mistletoe (Viscum album)*

Toxic Flowers Found in Floral Arrangements

Caladium (Caladium bicolor)
American bittersweet (Celastrus scandens)
Chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum cvs.)*
Lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis)*
Delphinium, larkspur (Delphinium cvs.)
Foxglove (Digitalis spp.)*
Gladiolus (Gladiolus cvs.)
Baby’s breath (Gypsophila spp.)
Daylily (Hemerocallis cvs.)*
Hyacinth (Hyacinthus cvs.) Iris (Iris cvs.)
Lilies (Lilium spp.)*
Daffodil (Narcissus cvs.)*
Peony (Paeonia cvs.)
Azalea (Rhodendron cvs.)*
Bird of paradise (Strelitzia reginae)
Tulip (Tulipa cvs.)*
Calla lily (Zantedeschia aethiopica


Onion (Allium cepa) Mushrooms* 
Peach (pits and leaves) (Prunus persica)*
Rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum)*
Tomato plant (green fruit, stem and leaves) (Solanum lycopersicum)*
Eggplant (Solanum melongena)*
Potato (Solanum tuberosum)

* = very toxic to cats


1. Photo by Michelle Byrne Walsh
2. Photo by Gene Bush
3. Photo by ©Undine Freund - Fotolia

From Chicagoland Gardening Volume XXI Issue IV.


Posted: 02/05/14   RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

Other People Are Reading