Orchids: How Toxic Are They Really?

Last updated on October 23rd, 2023 at 08:32 pm

The orchids that we get in the shops are poisonous only to a certain extent. However, you should take precautions to protect small children and pets.

Orchids are among the most popular houseplants. They delight with colorful flowers and an unexpected wealth of species. However, the enjoyment of these plants is often clouded by doubts about their safety. For example, there are increasing reports of poisoning in cats and dogs, and even small children often seem to be endangered by houseplants. We explain whether orchids are really poisonous and what precautions should be taken.

No highly toxic varieties on the market

Orchids: How Toxic Are They Really?

There are almost 30,000 different orchid species worldwide. In view of this abundance of different plants, it is not possible to make a general statement about the safety of orchids. Not all species have been scientifically studied and tested for their active substances.

What can be said with certainty, however, is this: In Europe, no highly toxic orchid varieties enter the market.

Not suitable for consumption

As a rule, there is no danger whatsoever from touching orchids. Orchids do not have toxic substances that could cause skin irritation if touched or be absorbed through the air we breathe. Dead plant parts are also harmless. Disposal in the compost is possible.

Attention: There is one exception, however, which will be explained in more detail below.

If you study the labels of your orchids carefully, you will find the note that the plants are not suitable for consumption. If the plant parts of the otherwise non-toxic orchids come into contact with saliva and enter the digestive tract, adverse health effects may occur.

An immediate danger exists for babies and small children, whose organism reacts strongly to the plant substances. Dogs and cats are also sensitive to orchids and may show signs of poisoning.

Tip: If you can’t help it – the Karma orchid has edible flowers. This is a special cultivation from the Netherlands.

Which parts of the plant are dangerous?

Orchids: How Toxic Are They Really?

There is no danger from the foliage of the orchid. Even the flowers would have to be consumed in masses to cause a reaction in an adult human.

It is more common for flowers of the well-known butterfly orchid to be used as decoration on desserts. The phalaenopsis is slightly poisonous. The effect is roughly comparable to nutmeg. Small amounts are harmless. Larger doses cause symptoms of poisoning. However, a single flower is completely harmless for an adult human.

The toxins, mainly alkaloids, are concentrated in the roots of the plants. However, adverse health effects can only occur if the plant parts are consumed and enter the digestive tract.
Caution: The bitter substances contained in the tubers can cause permanent liver damage.

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Orchids should therefore be placed out of reach of children and pets. If children or pets dig in the soil and come into contact with damaged root pieces, the bitter substances can also enter the gastrointestinal tract when fingers are licked or paws are cleaned, causing vomiting and diarrhea.

Caution with small children!

In babies and small children, even small amounts of the ingested plant juice can damage the liver. In a household with young children, cultivation of spice vanilla should be avoided if possible. This plant is irritating to the skin and respiratory tract. It can cause skin rashes even at the mere touch.

Attention: Lady’s slipper orchids should not be touched. The leaf hairs secrete a toxin that enters the body through the skin.

Keeping babies away from orchids should not be difficult for you. Even with small children, it is usually sufficient to cultivate the plants in a higher location. Older children should be advised that orchids are not toys and certainly not for consumption.

Orchids as a danger for pets

Houseplants and pets are a touchy subject. Many plants are toxic to four-legged friends and make for full waiting rooms in veterinary offices. Dogs and cats are naturally curious and quite bored when their owners are not home.

If the plants are knocked over and dug up, the roots are exposed and can be eaten.

Tip: In purely statistical terms, cats are most likely to be poisoned by orchids and lily plants.

While pet owners can avoid orchids indoors, the danger is not completely eliminated. If cats are free-rangers, they curiously explore any terrain. Often orchids such as orchid or lady’s slipper are also cultivated in the bed.

The following symptoms may indicate poisoning after eating orchids:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Headache
  • visual disturbances
  • Skin irritation
  • dizziness
  • Liver damage

Precautions for pets

If dog and cat owners do not want to do without orchids, the plants should be placed out of reach of the animals. Cats are true climbers, which does not make this easy.

Orchids do well on divided windowsills or in a conservatory inaccessible to pets. In addition, you should always immediately collect and dispose of dropped flowers.

With age, cats become calmer and are usually hardly interested in your houseplants. With young cats, all the more caution is required. Nibbling on plants is a natural reflex that cannot be trained away.

Provide them with ample opportunities to play and occupy themselves, and offer them a bowl of cat grass so that their natural urge can be satisfied without harming the animals or the houseplants.

What to do in case of poisoning symptoms?

Whether and to what extent symptoms of poisoning become apparent depends on the amount consumed and the physical constitution of the child or pet.

Due to the low body weight, animals show first symptoms already within one hour after consumption. In infants, several hours may pass.

If symptoms of poisoning occur, a doctor should be consulted as soon as possible. In the case of poisoning in children, the poison control center can be called. In the case of pets, the veterinarian can help.

On the other hand, do not administer household remedies that are intended to induce emesis. Dangerous circulatory collapse could be the result.

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Are orchids poisonous?

Orchids: How Toxic Are They Really?

The question of whether orchids are poisonous cannot be answered in a blanket manner, as up to 30,000 species exist around the world. However, there are no known poisonous varieties available that develop toxins due to their way of life. Nevertheless, no plant parts of the Orchidaceae should be chewed or swallowed for too long, especially the flowers and the roots.

Orchid species

The liver damage that occurs is especially a common problem with young children, as they dig in the pots and substrate of the plants and thus have remnants of the roots on their fingers. These are ingested through the mouth and in many cases swallowed, which can lead to liver poisoning even in small amounts, as children have smaller organisms than adults. Cats function differently than humans, but they are very sensitive to the ingredients of the orchid.

The following are popular species:

  • Phalaenopsis
  • Oncidium
  • Vanilla planifolia

These are the most common species offered in Europe. Of course, there are many other, more unusual varieties, but the toxicity is the same for all varieties. The spiced vanilla is also irritating to the skin and respiratory tract compared to the other varieties. If touched too often, it can cause skin rashes. With the thin skin of a young child, the toxins of spiced vanilla move much faster into the skin and cause painful irritation. In addition, native orchids should be avoided as well, including the following.

  • Orchis (marsh orchid)
  • Cypripedium (lady’s slipper)

Especially these two varieties are found in our own gardens and are a found food for free-roaming cats. Likewise, children are fascinated by the blaze of color the flowers emit, and picking and tasting them out of curiosity can be a common occurrence. Lady’s slipper species also cause skin irritation from the stem and leaf hairs, which contain a toxin that can be easily absorbed through the skin.

Please note, if your child or the cat swallowed parts of the roots, be sure to consult a doctor. The roots of the orchid contain bitter substances, which can even be absorbed through saliva and cause the above-mentioned liver damage.

Why do cats chew on orchid plants?

Compared to wild cats, today’s domestic cats no longer rely on certain instincts. First and foremost, this includes the knowledge about poisonous and non-poisonous plants, which is provided by the mother animal. For this reason, a classic domestic cat simply does not know whether the moth orchid on the windowsill is intended for consumption or not. Moreover, a cat’s sense of smell is only half as strong as a dog’s, so they try out whether the houseplant tastes good. But the sense of taste is even worse than the cat’s nose. Orchids stimulate only the instinct to chew in the cat.

Orchids: How Toxic Are They Really?

Precautions for cats

If you have a cat in the house, you should apply the following tips to protect the house cat from accidental poisoning. In recent decades, orchids have become the biggest causes of plant poisoning due to their popularity. With a little preparation, there is no need to make a trip to the vet.

Tip 1:

  • If possible, place the orchid so that the cat does not reach it.
  • due to the jumping and climbing abilities of the animals this is easier said than done.
  • here are suitable, for example, partitioned window sills or the conservatory, which is not accessible to the cat
  • some orchid owners get a cage in which they put their orchid and which at the same time provides for an aesthetic aspect in the apartment.
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Tip 2:

be sure to collect the flowers and other parts of the orchid immediately if they have been shed

Tip 3:

  • older cats are often no longer interested in chewing on plants
  • therefore protection is not so important for them

Tip 4:

  • you can teach young cats not to go near the orchid
  • this requires a little training and patience
  • as an alternative you can sprinkle a little pepper or chili around the orchid’s location
  • these hot spices cats hate

Tip 5:

  • with free-roaming cats it is worthwhile to bring outdoor orchids into the greenhouse
  • also here can sprinkle a protection against cats around the orchids

Why do children put orchids in their mouths?

While domestic cats have a poor sense of taste and are no longer told which plants are safe through their mother, young children explore their world largely with their mouths and hands. Eyes and hearing only sharpen over the course of childhood. This is why babies and children put their fingers in their mouths or try to eat soil. Plants of all kinds are especially interesting to young children because humans have a keen sense of taste and want to adapt it, especially at a young age. Therefore, parents need to take extra good care of their children.

Precautions for children

Children, especially toddlers, are not as agile at a young age and can be kept away from orchids with little effort. In the first few years of life, it is enough to place them in a higher place to protect the child. As the child gets older, keep reminding him or her that orchids are not for consumption and species such as the lady’s slipper should not be touched. By doing this, you reduce the risk of your offspring getting poisoned. Even if the orchid itself is not poisonous, care must be taken, as children are curious by nature.


  • James Jones

    Meet James Jones, a passionate gardening writer whose words bloom with the wisdom of an experienced horticulturist. With a deep-rooted love for all things green, James has dedicated his life to sharing the art and science of gardening with the world. James's words have found their way into countless publications, and his gardening insights have inspired a new generation of green thumbs. His commitment to sustainability and environmental stewardship shines through in every article he crafts.

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