Many people wonder if the yucca palm is poisonous. ‘No’ is the most accurate answer to this. What can make the noble plant dangerous under certain circumstances, this article explains
This question cannot be answered unequivocally at the present time. So far, there are too few scientific studies or confirmed findings on the effects of the components in the plant. It is therefore not surprising that opinions on the subject differ widely.
From botanists, toxicologists or veterinarians to pet owners, gardeners or parents, very different views are held. Some say the yucca palm is not toxic. Others, however, specifically advise against keeping the plant in a household with small children or animals.
Tip: In general, the yucca palm is considered non-toxic. Nevertheless, some things should be considered when dealing with it. Both internal and external properties of the plant have the potential to cause harm to humans and animals.
Yucca palm: Toxic to humans?
Yucca palms form so-called saponins in their leaves and trunk, which are secondary plant substances. The substance can also be observed in many other plant species and, according to scientific findings, is mainly used as a defense against predators and fungi. Whether this already makes the yucca palm poisonous to humans cannot be answered easily. Basically, it is advisable to be careful when handling the agave plant.
This applies all the more to small children and babies, who are less able to tolerate toxins such as saponins. Children should therefore always be protected from handling the plant. A direct and immediate danger for children comes rather from the sharp-edged leaves of the yucca palm, which quickly lead to injuries.
Yucca palm: Toxic for cats, dogs and other pets?
Essentially, the same rules apply to dogs and cats as to children when it comes to yucca palm. Consumption of the plant can lead to symptoms of poisoning, resulting in stomach or digestive illness. The sharp-edged leaves can also cause injuries to pets. Nevertheless, it is rather the exception that animals tamper with the slightly poisonous plant. Therefore, the plant does not necessarily have to be removed – still be vigilant. Especially with cats, you should keep an eye on whether the trunk of the yucca is used by them as a scratching post.
- Contains saponins
- Can cause digestive and even kidney problems if eaten
- Risk of injury from sharp-edged leaves
- Caution with small children and domestic animals
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The secondary plant compounds of the yucca palm are toxic
The yucca palm is not exactly known as an outright poisonous plant. For most adults it does not pose an immediate danger, at least in terms of toxins. With the decrease of the body weight however the risk potential of the yucca palm increases. With some children, primarily however with babies it can come therefore after the admission of plant parts to symptoms. Finally, smaller dogs and cats in particular may react even more violently if pieces of the yucca palm enter their organism. The reason for this are the secondary plant substances contained in the storage root or rhizome, the stem as well as in the leaves, the so-called saponins. They essentially serve the plant as a defense against predators and fungal infestation, among other things.
How saponins work
Saponins are the Latin word for soap. When saponins are stirred into water, a foaming solution is formed. This is because the molecules of these secondary plant substances have a fat-soluble and a water-soluble part. This fat-water binding ability explains, for example, why soap can be used to dissolve dirt. On the other hand, it can have an irritating effect on mucous membranes. Anyone who has ever gotten some soap scum in their eye can confirm this.
Saponins are essential ingredients of the yucca palm (in the stem and leaves). They belong to the group of secondary plant substances. Specifically, they are a group of the so-called glycosides. The main characteristic of the same: if they are shaken in aqueous solution, they form a foam.
One part of the saponin molecule is fat-soluble (lipophilic), the other water-soluble (hydrophilic). One can imagine the effect as with a soap. This is also supported by the name – sapo is in fact the Latin term for soap. Saponins usually taste bitter.
It is assumed that saponins of the yucca palm (and also other plants) serve as so-called defensive substances. In other words, they are supposed to protect the plant from diseases. According to studies, the substances have antifungal (against fungi) and antimicrobial (inhibit bacteria) effects.
As with all critical substances, it is also the case with saponins that poisoning and symptoms (can) only occur above a certain level of consumption. Exact data on this are not available. But it can be said with certainty that tolerance in young children and pets is significantly lower than in adult humans.
In babies, children, cats, dogs, guinea pigs, birds, etc., minimal amounts are often enough to cause discomfort. However, serious illnesses or serious consequences are rare.
Typical symptoms of poisoning in animals:
Anyone who notices these or other strange behaviors in their pet and has a yucca palm at home should quickly consult a veterinarian and mention the plant in conversation with the doctor. This may speed up diagnosis and treatment.
Important: The yucca palm is an ornamental plant and NOT for consumption. Touching the plant is not a problem. One should just not ingest its components.
- Risk of injury
- Sharp-edged leaves pose a risk of injury
There is a second point that is crucial for the fact that the yucca palm is not considered completely harmless: The sharp-edged leaves can cause mild to severe injuries if you are careless when handling them. Cuts on the hands or even on the face, for example in the mouth or muzzle, are possible consequences.
Details of the problem in relation to babies and children
The immune system of babies and young children is not yet fully developed. Therefore, adolescents have little or no resistance to potentially harmful substances. Thus, there is a risk here that saponins can quickly lead to symptoms such as gastrointestinal complaints.
It is best to do without yucca palms altogether in the home if babies and/or small children live in the household. If you still don’t want to do without the beautiful plants, you should place them in such a way that the kids can’t get to them. In addition, it is important to always keep an eye on the offspring when they are in the room with the yucca palms.
Tip: The risk of damage refers both to careless chewing on the plant’s components and to uncontrolled movements with the little hands, which can result in bloody wounds.
Details of the problem in relation to pets
In the wild, it is almost impossible for cats or dogs to consume plants that are poisonous to them. Instinct tells them what they should better keep their paws off.
The situation is different with “real” pets: They are virtually forced to deal with the things that are around them. And since house tigers and furry noses are in no way inferior to small children (and also some adults) when it comes to curiosity, it can certainly happen that they play with houseplants or garden plants from time to time, i.e. chew or scratch at them.
- poisoning with gastrointestinal complaints
- unpleasant inflammations (saponins)
- sores in the mouth (from chewing the leaves)
- injuries to the paws or face (injuries to the face can occur if, for example, a cat intensively nuzzles the sharp-edged leaves of the yucca palm)
Thus it is recommended also for humans, who hold domestic animals, rather to do without yucca palms or to place them again inaccessibly. But this is hardly feasible especially for cats and dogs, which can be very agile and inventive.
Some veterinarians advise cat owners to deliberately bring their kitties into contact with the houseplant. The robust trunk of the yucca palm offers cats namely best conditions to scratch extensively and to sharpen the nails.
Here, every owner must know for himself whether he wants to take the risk or can ensure that he always keeps an eye on the pet when it plays with the palm tree. For the safety of the four-legged friend, however, it is advisable to prefer other scratching possibilities (such as a scratching post) – especially since it probably also does not please mistress and master if the beautiful plant is ruined.
Quick reader tips
- Yucca palm in principle neither poisonous nor harmless
- Plant contains potentially harmful saponins
- Avoid consumption of all components at all costs
- Be careful with the sharp-edged leaves of the plant
- danger of poisoning and injury for children/animals
- then it is better to avoid yucca palms at home
- otherwise always watch children/animals carefully
Dangers from saponins for adults, children and babies
Adults, however, would have to ingest larger quantities of yucca leaves and perhaps also eat some of the stem and rhizome for a toxic effect to set in due to the saponins they contain. In any case, the penetration of a relevant dose into the bloodstream is almost impossible. For them, yucca palms can therefore be considered non-toxic.
In young children, however, the urge to explore is so pronounced that yucca leaves seem tempting enough for them to taste them. However, their organism has much less to resist the ingested amount of saponins than that of adults. In addition, babies’ immune systems are still developing. Thus, even substances with a generally weak toxic effect can have a more serious impact on them.
Symptoms and first aid measures in children
Occasionally, therefore, some symptoms of poisoning occur when very young children in particular have chewed on the leaves of yucca palms. These include:
- Redness in the oral cavity
- Increased salivation
- Behavioral changes
- In babies, behavioral changes such as apathy are the clearest sign that something is wrong after eating parts of the yucca palm.
As a first aid, it is advisable to provide the child with water. On the other hand, the use of other means is not recommended. If the symptoms of poisoning do not disappear quickly, a doctor should be consulted. After all, it is possible that it is not the yucca palm that is causing the symptoms, but other parts of the plant with a strong toxic effect that have previously been swallowed.
Beware of sharp-edged leaves of the yucca palm.
In practice, however, it is probably the case that the sharp-edged leaves of the yucca palm can be far more dangerous to children and pets than its toxins. Even a careless brush past can cause painful injuries. It becomes especially unpleasant when the sharp leaves get to the corners of the mouth or mouth.
Yucca palms in households with children or animals
Even if there are children or pets in the area, yucca palms are not so poisonous that they must be avoided altogether. Place the plant in a location that is difficult for children or pets to reach.
Tip: If your cat uses the trunk of the yucca palm for scratching, provide it with a suitable scratching post in a place that is attractive to it.